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.
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.
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