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José González is the founder of SEMILLA Inc., a ministry that promotes the cultural and spiritual transformation of Latin Americans and US Hispanics by the Word of God through godly, integral and wise leaders. He is the new guest Spanish blogger for

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Punctuality, the Subjunctive and the Rule of Law

(Click here for Spanish) Over the years I have struggled with both a cultural and a personal tendency to arrive late. 

Every culture has a different idea of time, which is rooted in their worldview.  Most of us who grew up in a traditional Hispanic culture look at time as something to be spent in relationships, experiences and adventures, things that have a value in themselves, regardless of whether anything concrete is accomplished during that time.  That is why we are always available to celebrate… whatever it may be.   In contrast, our Anglo American host culture sees time as something golden, to be invested in achieving a purpose, getting things done as quickly as possible in order to “save time.”   

Beneath these very different ideas of time are two widely different worldviews, or assumptions about the nature and purpose of reality.   The traditional Hispanic worldview (rapidly changing under the inexorable weight of secularization on the one hand and revival on the other) is highly “religious”, but it produces in most people an impersonal connection with God mediated through rituals and rote prayers.  The emotional aspect of our religious relationship is often reserved for an imagined Mother, so most members of our historic church, have a “nominal” (in name only) religiosity.  A living, effectual faith inspires and empowers the believer to grow in his relationship with God, and to embrace  His Law as his rule of faith and life.

I believe that Spanish Catholicism, in almost eight centuries of subjugation by, and alternating accommodation and Reconquista with the Moors, acquired some of the fatalistic worldview of Islam.  “Lo que será, será” seems to aptly describe our Hispanic attitude towards life. 

Without the Bible and the Covenant God offers in it, Fate, not God, seem to govern the future.   Not knowing God, one is left to guess His will, which is why, I believe, many of our Spanish idioms express our uncertainty of the future.  Statements such as “Si Dios quiere”, “Dios mediante”, “primero Dios”, (all meaning roughly God willing,” or “if God wills”) typically accompany many affirmations about our plans, hopes and desires.  We express our hopes and longings by saying “Dios quiera”, would to God, or would that it would please God.  “Ojalá”, which means the same thing, comes from “Oj Alá”, if Alah wills). 

Someone has observed that our language is made for uncertainty.  While in English the near universal mode is the “indicative”, used to affirm things, in Spanish we use much more the subjunctive, which expresses uncertainty, what “might be”, “could be”, even “should be,” and the conditional modes.  Our traditional politeness requires indirectness and multiple denials before finally accepting food.  Protestations to the contrary, haggling over price is often expected. 

Without the Father and His Covenant, we are not sons, but servants.  Fear will color our reality.  Unable to affirm much with certainty, we won’t trust promises, beginning with our own.  Ignoring  that God has given us dominion over the earth, we won’t see “time” as a gift to be used to bring Him fruit, but as the inexorable passing of our life.  The universe will not be ruled by His Law, but by unknown Fate.  Punctuality and the keeping of promises may seem like a dispensable value, almost impossible to achieve in such uncertain world. 

To compound things, my struggle with punctuality was both cultural and personal.  Adding to my heritage I lived for decades lawlessly, in open rebellion against all authority, unwilling to be ruled by king or clock.  Alternatively I ignored or forgot my promises and arrived late to almost everything.  Almost unconsciously, I would find something to distract me before an important appointment, tempting Fate by delaying and even starting a new project at the last possible minute.  I saw all obedience, to the Law, to my promises or to the clock as and intolerable infringement on my “freedom.”

As a Christian, God has delivered me of my rebellion and He now helps me to obey His commands.   But I still battle my old, culturally based idea of time, and the tardiness that from time to time it still produces in my life.    


Print     Email to a Friend    posted on Tuesday, August 04, 2009 6:12 PM

Comments on this post

# RE: Punctuality, the Subjunctive and the Rule of Law

Well put Jose. Thanks!
Left by travelingirl on Aug 13, 2009 1:32 PM

# RE: Punctuality, the Subjunctive and the Rule of Law

"Someone has observed that our language is made for uncertainty. While in English the near universal mode is the “indicative”, used to affirm things, in Spanish we use much more the subjunctive, which expresses uncertainty, what “might be”, “could be”, even “should be,” and the conditional modes."

Wow! This helps explain the difficulty of most Anglos, regardless of their proficiency in Spanish to fully convey the nuances of a Spanish speaker's words.

Thank you!
Left by Solymares on Aug 13, 2009 4:07 PM