Create Space with “Habibi”

Mija (mee-ha), Boo, Amore (ah-mor), Bae, and now Habibi (Ha-be-be) are some terms of endearment that I have learned over the years as I have come into close relationships with loved ones of various cultural backgrounds.  Mija or Mijo (mee-ho) are Spanish terms of affection for little girls and boys; Amore can be used for anyone, but is often used in reference to romantic love.  Boo and bae are terms of affection from the African American culture that I love to see and hear used, especially when one of my sister or brother-friends uses it in reference to me. These words feel like a hug.  They are a reminder that we belong to each other enough to have terms of affection for each other.

As I learned this last one, Habibi, it has had me thinking about how names and terms we use for people either create more space, understanding, and love in our hearts.  By contrast, harsh words we often call people do the opposite, they close and tighten our hearts and mind, eliminating space for relationships with people.

Habibi is my new word. It is an Arabic word. I learned “Habibi” on a recent trip my husband and I had the honor of taking to meet our youngest daughter and her boyfriend for a few days of fun and exploration in Dallas together. Her boyfriend, Ali is originally from Lebanon, specifically Beirut.  This trip to spend time with Ali was our perfect opportunity to learn more about modern Lebanon and its culture so we were excited not only to learn more about Ali, but also about Beirut, the Middle East, the cultural values, and also the person who has been so kind to our girl.

The highlight of our trip was when Ali took us to a Lebanese restaurant to have an authentic meal like the ones from home. “My mother would make all this,” he said with affection. In an hour and a half, we ate a number of dishes that would typically be consumed over a long leisurely dinner lasting several hours (in courses).

When we sat down with Ali at that dinner with some of the comforts of his home, we saw his heart. He asked us permission to order everything for us so we could taste his favorite foods from home, and we gladly agreed. I was sitting across the table from him, so got the pleasure of seeing his face light up as he spoke Arabic to the waiter. Ali beamed with excitement and showed us how to eat each dish, he told stories of home and his mother, and his culture.  He told about the family roles, the school days, and the Sabbath day off his mother takes to skip her cooking from scratch to spend time visiting with her siblings.

Over dinner, we got the chance to ask about this word we had been hearing them call each other all week, Habibi.  Ali explains that it is a term of endearment, a term his mother would call him.  But it is also a term that could be commonly used for anyone to express closeness and affection.  I asked, “so would it be cultural appropriation if I were to call you Habibi, or would it be appropriate?” Ali smiled.  “It is good,” he said.

Since that trip, I find myself thinking “Habibi, Habibi, Habibi.”  Perhaps if we all thought of even strangers in these terms of affection . . . perhaps if we see a person we don’t know or who looks like “other” to us and we said to ourselves, “Habibi (dear one)” we would create more space in our lives and hearts for those who we feel uncomfortable around, or who we don’t understand, or even those we don’t like.

Jesus came, as a little one, who was probably called this very word, “Habibi” by his mother. He stripped himself of all the privilege and comforts of heaven to include us and to be known by us.  He thought of us as Habibi so that we could think of him as “friend.”  He laid down the culture of heaven to experience the culture of humanity and all of its pain so that we could become part of heaven. He told us to start bringing heaven here to earth. We don’t have to wait until we die to join him in spreading a heavenly culture on earth. We no longer have to be estranged from our Creator or each other.  We simply need to make room for him, and each other.

Making room begins with using terms of endearment to replace our words of wrath. Once we are forgiven and begin our recovery journey, we must cultivate new words that reflect God’s heart toward humans like us. Words of concern will create feelings and actions of love. Words, actions, and feelings which follow, will together grow a space in our hearts for each other.

Ephesians 4:29 “Let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

By Angela Courage

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