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Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Undoing Babel around a Table

   The Old Testament tells the story of a group of people who decided to build a ziggurat (tower) to make a name for themselves.  They wanted to reach God in heaven and refused to spread out over the face of the earth as he had commanded.  As a result, God confused their languages.  Communication broke down, and the people abandoned their grand project.  They set out for different areas, and nations arose. The place was called "Babel," from which we have also gained the word "babble," a helpful word for speech that does not communicate meaning.
   Last night the young Iraqi woman who lives with us invited guests for dinner.  A friend she first met while in Iraq was visiting from his new home in the Netherlands, and he was accompanied by his aunt, who had come from Iraq over thirty years ago.
   She did such an amazing job preparing a meal for all of us that if felt like a second Thanksgiving. As we passed the salad, the pork chops and the roasted potatoes, there was an incredible array of communication.  She and her two guests could all speak Armenian and Arabic with one another.  Her friend who lives in the Netherlands could speak Dutch with my husband and me.  All of us were also able to understand English to varying degrees.  During the conversations, even those which not all could understand, there was still a special sense of unity.  Language was not used to exclude anyone because around the table we were all friends.  Once, we paused to talk about a particular Arabic word: saha.  Literally it means "health," but it is used in various ways.  When someone sneezes, you say, "Saha" in the same way we say "Bless you" in English.  It can also be used at the start of a meal, wishing good health and nourishment from the food one is about to eat.  When you add a certain ending, it also becomes a term of endearment.
 After the meal we opened the Bible to read from the book of James.  Maral turned in her own Bible, where she had a column in English and Arabic on each page.  Although we read in English, there was understanding and opportunity to ask questions.  Appropriately, the topic of taming the tongue directed us to communication that blesses rather than curses.
   When we have the Spirit of Jesus among us, we can overcome the barriers that different languages and cultures tend to place between people.  When we seek the One by whom all things hold together, we can begin to experience the "undoing" of Babel.  It can happen at a simple dinner table, where grace and peace are served along with the meal.

1 comment:

  1. Sharing food with others is probably one of the best ways to undo Babel. I'm looking forward to my French club meet today, over a bowl of soup. Last time, our Chinese member explained to us, in French, the difference between Cantonese and Mandarin. My nouveau ami from Belgium, "Jules," broke out in singing a French rendition of "Sinterklaas Kapuntje" when I told him my background is Dutch. We barely know what the others are saying, but laughter, music, gestures and smiles over a small feast, connect us in ways that delight and instill love for all the cultures of the world.