Beauty in Patterns
Jeremiah 33:3 ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’
Tears streamed from the corners of my eyes and dripped boldly onto the sterile paper that covered the examination table. As I lay in fetal position whispering a desperate prayer, I could feel the numbed pressure and intense inner pain of the thick metal needle probing deep into my hipbone. I had stopped counting bone marrow biopsies after a dozen. They had become routine over the years of chronic leukemia treatments. With a thick layer of gauze under an over-sized Band-Aid, the doctor patched up my tiny yet deep bone wound and sent me on my way.
My husband hugged me tight, handed me my coat, and ushered me out the door. I still had time to make it to my absolutely favorite graduate Spanish linguistics class. Being an already awkward, over-achieving, non-traditional grad student, I decided limping in late with tearstains and a bandaged backside was still worth it. I slipped into my front row seat and began to copiously copy the tree diagrams sprawled all over the whiteboards in the room. Syntax. I couldn’t decide if I loved syntax or morphology more. Good thing I didn’t have to choose—I just love the one I’m with.
My profesora gave me a sympathetic look and proceeded with her lecture. Compassionately, she had offered that I could take an Incomplete for her class if I needed to during this uncertain time of changing leukemia treatments. That was unthinkable. It wasn’t that I needed to “stay busy” during a difficult time, it’s that I needed to be part of something meaningful.
Who knew that la lingüística could provide such purpose?
Within the field of linguistics, the goal is to discover patterns in language. Once the patterns are discovered, linguists search out evidence found in natural speech to describe the rules and identify the boundaries of such defined patterns. I find comfort in the certainty of patterns that allow us to explore deep mysteries of minds and cultures.
Did you know that there are universal principles found in all the world’s languages that set human language apart from animal communication? This is where geeky meets inspirational. According to my favorite textbook, Introducción a la lingüística hispánica, creativity in a linguistic sense is the ability to take a finite number of items (a set of sounds, letters, morphemes, or words) and to produce an utterance that has never been said before. We have the power to create. This creativity allows us to make friend a verb, and to invent novel combinations like un-Google-able and stay-cation. Prevarication reflects our human ability to fabricate, that is, both to deceive and imagine other possible worlds. Recursion is how we use a finite number of language structures and patterns to produce infinite possibilities:
This is the house that Jack built. This is the malt that lay in the house that Jack built. This is the rat that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built. This is the cat that killed the rat that…
Patterns help our finite human minds fathom infinity.
We can ponder impossible things. We can process the past and hope for the future. Our language capacity allows us to imagine, to weave together a story—whether it is to fabricate a brilliant excuse or invent a fantastical new dimension.
Patterns are discernable and predictable structures that repeat and could potentially go on forever. They are God’s eternal fingerprint on our temporal world. He set eternity in our hearts and gave us the tools to process and express His everlasting essence. He has wired us to marvel at the divine mystery and to comprehend great and unsearchable things.
In the midst of life’s unknowns, I have learned to cry out to the One who knows me. To seek the one who penetrates marrow and searches souls. To search for His beauty in patterns. And not just in language. God has scattered discernable patterns all over this world for us to discover and describe and fathom and imagine.
Maybe you have Taco Tuesday. We have omelets on Fridays. Embrace the rhythm of routine, but pause to savor it. Make your favorite omelet, but tweak the ingredients just enough to stir your culinary imagination. Add smoked Gouda or sundried tomatoes. Top with sautéed mushrooms and onions. Try a side of roasted sweet potatoes drizzled with olive oil.
I love patterns in music—both the tune and the lyrics. With hands opened towards heaven, listen, notice, and discover; surrender to His design.
NeedtoBreathe, Multiplied https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGF-MGGLpB0
Lord, you are infinitely loving. You set eternity in our hearts that we may comprehend unsearchable things. I call out to you today. Reveal yourself to me through the patterns in this world. Transform me out of the rut of life-depleting routine and into the unforced rhythm of your grace. Thank you, Jesus.
Take time to play with words and play on words. Marvel at the morphemes that make un-fathom-able possible. Listen closely to the whispered words God has for you. Try to keep track of unsearchable things. Get lost in a pattern and imagine new possible worlds. Share a good word from His Word with a friend.
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