Just as we grow up speaking in a certain way, God gives us a spiritual accent as well.
Posted in , Mar 29, 2021
I spent the first half of my boyhood in the Philadelphia area, specifically Havertown, sometimes called the thirty-third county of Ireland because of the names on most of the mailboxes. Philadelphians have a very distinct accent, as thick as the provolone cheese that properly goes on a Philly cheesesteak. “Hey, yo, give me a glass of wooter with that hoagie dere!” So, when my family moved to Michigan—I was around nine—I took my accent with me.
Of course, I was utterly clueless to the fact I had an accent. I thought everyone drank wooter, which was why it was so disconcerting when Michiganders, whose accents are as flat as the Midwest itself, treated me like I was speaking a foreign language. It was embarrassing and a source of no small amount of teasing, and at that age teasing is torture. I vowed to abolish my accent as fast as I could, which is why today I speak with a kind of neutral accent, a linguistic compromise. I can’t voluntarily resurrect my Philly accent even if I try.
Except when I am upset or excited and raise my voice. Then, suddenly, I’m shouting “wooter” all over again. The accent fades as soon as I calm down, and I go back to speaking like a no-accent talk show host.
So, is that nine-year-old-boy from Havertown still living somewhere inside me, my inner Philadelphian? Does this mean a person’s immutable roots never run too far beneath the surface and that much of who we are is formative? It would seem so. And maybe that’s true about faith as well. I went to St. Denis school and parish as a kid in Philly, though I have not remained a strict Catholic truth to tell. In fact, you could say I am a denominationally agnostic Christian. But in times of stress or excitement, the basic tenets of faith I learned in my formative years always charge to the fore. Faith is always there, rooted within me, like a spiritual accent.
We are raised by our families and our communities and carry that experience with us our whole lives, for better or for worse. But we are also raised by a God who gives us a faith accent we carry with us too. One that is strong and can’t be suppressed no matter how we try. Something that lets me know that yo, God is always dere no matter where I am.
How about you? Have you ever struggled with an accent? Let me know by emailing me here.