Michelle Martin


Wednesday, June 16, 2021

My husband and I got into an argument the other day.

Nothing terribly unusual there; after more than a quarter-century of marriage, and the last 15 months living in each other’s pockets almost all day every day, we’ve found plenty of ways to get on one another’s nerves.

This argument was like so many others: He said something about something that had nothing to do with either of us, I said something that expressed my disagreement, he got mad at me. Later, when we talked about it, he said it wasn’t so much what I said as how I said it.

Isn’t that how it works? We communicate so much not with our words but with our posture, tone of voice, eye contact.

That’s why movies with subtitles work so well. The words are important to understanding, of course, but to get the whole picture, you need the visuals and the sound effects and to hear the movie in the language of the country where it’s set makes a huge difference.

That’s also why, once you get absorbed in a movie, the subtitles kind of disappear into the experience. “Parasite” director Bong Joon Ho called subtitles a “1-inch-tall barrier” to English-speaking audiences for the movie, which won the Academy Award for best picture in 2020. A year later, “Minari,” a best picture nominee in 2021, would have lost much of its nuance if the Korean-American family it features only spoke English.

Too often we forget the non-verbal portion of how we communicate. Even when we remember to temper what we say, we put little thought into how we say it, and to the messages we send without saying anything at all.

It can be as simple as entering a church and sliding into the end of a pew, pulling down the kneeler and settling in to pray silently before Mass. You’re doing the right thing: You’re going to Mass, you’re being reverent, you’re engaging in prayer and not bothering anyone else.

But as other people filter in, you’re sending the message that the pew you’re in is taken as clearly as if you had hung an “occupied” sign on the end. No one can share the pew with you without interrupting you, either asking you to move over or to get up for a moment so they can get past you.

Granted, that wasn’t a problem when churches had COVID-19-related capacity restrictions. But now that church doors are open to all, shouldn’t we make sure we don’t make unnecessary barriers for people?

On June 20, we hear the passage from Mark’s Gospel in which the disciples become frightened during a storm at sea. They wake Jesus up, and he “rebukes” the wind and the waves, before asking why the disciples were frightened. “Do you not yet have faith?” he says.

I wonder if there was a tone of rebuke in what he said to the disciples as well as to the elements. After all, Jesus was sleeping through the storm. Shouldn’t that have given them enough information?



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