Sunday, July 15, 2012

Babel, Deconstructed

We are standing in the food line, next to Tent F, the tent for the adults who are on pilgrimage at Taizé. It is like a UN translator's nightmare: on all sides, we are surrounded by Germans, Poles, Dutch, Portuguese, Italians, Koreans, Chinese, Ukrainians – oh, and let's not forget French speakers as well. All of us, rolled up into one big hungry family, waiting for our lunch of carrots and lentils, with a side dish of applesauce.

Earlier in the day, all of us had been in Bible study, exploring the Suffering Servant texts of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It was slow going... Our catechist, a Brother from Taizé, would first read a passage in English and give an explanation, which would then be followed by the German translator. And immediately after this, you could hear the buzzing all around the tent, as this teaching was interpreted in all the various languages that had gathered for the week. In short, the whole thing was this mesmerizing dance of communication, of finding commonality across huge distances of language, culture, idiosyncrasies and euphemisms.

And yet it all worked.

There are a lot of things that work here, in spite of what you might think are impossible circumstances. For instance, music works here. Music works here so well that their repertoire has been emulated the world over. And who knew?

Who knew that Latin, that dead language, would be the bridge that united such a faith expression in modern Europe?

Who knew that people could routinely gather together, hour after hour, week after week, with absolutely nothing in common, and achieve a sense of orderly, beautiful, compelling musical prayer (in four part harmony, nonetheless) – morning, noon and night?

Who knew that, with such a massive obstacle as simple speech, hundreds of people could work together daily to feed, house, welcome, direct and teach thousands of young people around the world?

What it is, quite simply, is a daily reenactment of the miracle of Pentecost, that fabulous post-Resurrection moment when everyone, standing in the square, could understand the message of Peter. "Who knew!" they said. "how does it happen that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites... Jews and Arabs..."

Who knew? We are Americans, Brits, Belgians, Irish, Ukranians, Germans, French, Italians, Portuguese, Romanians, Danes, Finns (there was a huge contingent here this week from Finland). Who knew? Who knew we could sing together, work together, learn together? Who knew that the evil legacy of the Tower of Babel could be dismantled, deconstructed, and that the families of humanity might once again be joined in common purpose?

It was as if it were Pentecost, all over again.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Taizé, France

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