From the publisher | June 27, 2023

The spirit of the subjunctive

Birds flying above the ocean
Photo by Frank McKenna on

Maybe the subjunctive sounds foreign and intimidating. Maybe you disliked grammar in school, or you missed out because your English teacher disliked grammar, or it was hard to learn those extra verb forms in Spanish class.

But listen to Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof: “If I were a rich man. . . .”

If I were. That’s the elegant subjunctive. Surely there would have been no Tony for the award-winning musical if Tevye had sung, “If I was a rich man.”

I’m not saying the world needs more rich men, but we might need more of the subjunctive. That’s the verb form used with wishing and imagining, suggesting and asking. Yes, we could use more of that.

There’s a praise song that in Spanish is full of the subjunctive:

Fluye, Espiritu, fluye.
Haz lo que quieras hacer.
Yo me ofrezco para que me uses como quieras.
Fluye, Espiritu, fluye.

Flow, Spirit, flow.
Do what you will do.
I offer myself for you to use as you will.
Flow, Spirit, flow.

This world longs for something better even if it doesn’t always know how to make it so. Let’s imagine what that could look like. We in the church have the ability to do that. We can imagine the church as one body, even if we are different parts of that body. We can imagine the world repaired. We can be filled with the Spirit’s imagination.

Wendy McFadden is publisher of Brethren Press and Communications for the Church of the Brethren.