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From Theology Today July 1985 : First Language by Eugene Petersen 

Language I is the language of intimacy and relationship. It is the first language we learn. Initially, it is not articulate speech. The language that passes between parent and infant is incredibly rich in meaning but less than impressive in content. The coos and cries of the infant do not parse. The nonsense syllables of the parent have no dictionary definitions. But in the exchange of gurgles and out-of-tune hums trust develops. Parent whispers transmute infant screams into grunts of hope. The cornerstone words in this language are names, or pet names: mama, papa. For all its limited vocabulary and butchered syntax, it seems more than adequate to bring into expression the realities of a complex and profound love. Language I is primary language, the basic language for expressing and developing the human condition.Language II is the language of information. As we grow, we find this marvelous world of things surrounding us and that everything has a name: rock, water, doll, bottle. Gradually, through the acquisition of language, we are oriented in a world of objects. Beyond the relational intimacy with persons with which we begin, we find our way in an objective environment of trees and fire engines and weather. Day after day words are added. Things named are no longer strange but familiar. We make friends with the world. We learn to speak in sentences, making connections. The world is wonderfully various and our language enables us to account for it, recognizing what is there and how it is put together. Language II is the major language that is used in schools.Language III is the language of motivation. We discover early on that words have the power to make things happen, to bring something out of nothing, to move inert figures into purposive action. An infant wail brings food and a dry diaper. A parental command arrests a childish tantrum. No physical force is involved. No material causation is visible. Just a word: stop, go, shut up, speak up, eat everything on your plate. We are moved by language and use it to move others. Children acquire a surprising proficiency in this language, moving people much bigger and more intelligent than themselves to strenuous activity (and often against both the inclination and better judgment of these people). Language III is the predominant language of advertising and politics.Languages II and III are, clearly, the ascendant languages of our culture. Informational language (II) and motivational language (III) dominate our society. We are well schooled in language that describes the world in which we live. We are well trained in language that moves people to buy and join and vote. Meanwhile Language I, the language of intimacy, the language that develops relationships of trust and hope and understanding, languishes. Once we are clear of the cradle, we find less and less occasion to use it. There are short-lived recoveries of Language I in adolescence when we fall in love and spend endless hours talking on the telephone using words that eavesdroppers would characterize as gibberish. In romantic love, we find that it is the only language adequate to the reality of our passions. When we are new parents, we re-learn the basic language and use it for awhile. A few people never quit using it-a few lovers, some poets, the saints-but most let it slide.When I first started listening to language with these discriminations, I realized how thoroughly culture-conditioned I was. Talk about being conformed to this world! My use of language in the community of faith was a minor image of the culture: a lot of information, a lot of publicity, not much intimacy. My ministry was voiced almost entirely in the language of description and of persuasion-telling what was there, urging what could be. I was a great explainer. I was a pretty good exhorter. I was duplicating in the church what I had learned in my thoroughly secularized schools and sales-saturated society, but I wasn’t giving people much help in developing and using the language that was basic to both their humanity and their faith, the language of love and prayer.But this is my basic work: on the one hand to proclaim the word of God that is personal-God addressing us in love, inviting us into a life of trust in him; on the other hand to guide and encourage an answering word that is likewise personal-to speak in the first person to the second person, I to Thou, and avoid third person commentary as much as possible. This is my essential educational task: to develop and draw out into articulateness this personal word, to teach people to pray. Prayer is Language I. It is not language about God or the faith; it is not language in the service of God and the faith; it is language to and with God in faith.I remembered a long-forgotten sentence by George Arthur Buttrick, a preacher under whom I sat for a year of Sunday morning sermons while in seminary: “Pastors think people come to church to hear sermons. They don’t; they come to pray and to learn to pray.” I remembered Anselm’s critical transition from talking about God to talking to God. He had written his Monologion, setting forth the proofs of God’s existence with great brilliance and power. It is one of the stellar theological achievements in the West. Then he realized that however many right things he had said about God, he had said them all in the wrong language. He re-wrote it all in a Proslogion, converting his Language II into Language I: first person address, an answer to God, a personal conversation with the personal God. The Proslogion is theology as prayer.If the primary preaching task of the pastor is the conversion of lives, the primary teaching task is the conversion of language. I haven’t quit using the languages of information and motivation, nor will I. Competency in all languages is necessary in this life of faith that draws all levels of existence into the service and glory of God. But I have determined that the language in which I must be most practiced and for which I have a primary responsibility for teaching proficiency in others is Language I, the language of relationship, the language of prayer-to get as much language as possible into the speech of love and response and intimacy. “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15). 


A few comments from me: 

It is not the words but the person behind the words.  The same words spoken by a trusted person carry entirely different weight from a stranger.  (In the odd occasion the opposite can happen too)  If we take the word as plain text and ignore the person behind the words often we missed something, maybe even the most important thing.  

We pray not so much to ask for things we ask for God to be there. It is like a child crying for mom when his finger was cut. It was not just for the pain, of course there are some, but rather for the love the mother shown. We pray not to ask for things but to ask for God. We also pray because it  is a human thing to do. Not to pray is forgetting our human side.



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