There’s a very old and charming custom among our Jewish brothers and sisters: When children repeat the alphabet after their teacher for the first time, everything stops for a little celebration featuring sweet treats. The tasty practice recalls the words of Psalm 119:103, “How sweet are [God’s] words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”
Isn’t that wonderful, celebrating the start of learning something new? I’d love to see a custom like this take root and spread. Starting to learn something new is always worth celebrating, no matter who’s the learner or what’s the something new!
For those of us who’ve been around the block a time or two, starting to learn something new takes a certain confident humility, paradoxical as that sounds. It takes confidence to take up something new in the first place, and then those inevitable beginner’s bumps and stumbles call for humility. When we’re already familiar, even proficient, with other things, those beginner’s bumps can feel awkward – even downright threatening.
So how do we handle that? Do we simply say “pass” to an opportunity to learn something new? Do we give it a try and then put that new whatever-it-is back on the shelf, saying we never really wanted to learn to do that anyway? Do we say, “I’m too [old, young, whatever] to learn this!” Or do we humbly accept that yep, we’re beginners at this and we’re going to make some mistakes along the way, so let’s confidently pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start all over again?
When we start learning something new, it doesn’t always mean we’ll take it all the way through to competence. Sometimes those beginner’s bumps are too much. And that’s okay. Sometimes we end up learning that this “something new” is really for someone else, not for us. And that’s okay, too. Let’s still celebrate the start of learning.
Here in this All Anew triennium in the life of Women of the ELCA, as well as in the new school year and program year, we’ll have lots of opportunities to start learning something new. Let’s celebrate every one of them.
Audrey Riley is director of stewardship and development for women of the ELCA.