I was raised Baptist, which meant I went to Sunday School. Every Sunday. No exceptions. And in Sunday School, you absorbed Bible stories. The Tower of Babel story always captivated me, perfect for a child’s imagination with graphics of a grand edifice of wood—reaching into the clouds—populated with dozens of builders or workers playing out a scene of exaggerated chaos and exasperation. Our teachers warned that this photo demonstrates the consequences of pridefulness. (Which I assumed meant a life balancing on skyscraper beams while wearing costumes from the movie Ben-Hur.)
Thinking that mankind may be feeling too big for its britches, God said: “Come, let us go down and confound their speech.” And so, God scattered them upon the face of the Earth, and confused their languages, so that they would not be able to return to each other, and they left off building the “city,” which was called Babel “because God there confounded the language of all the Earth.” I’ll be the first to say that not speaking a common language may be more detrimental than the alternative.
So, consider this: what if the story is not just about the inability to communicate because of language barriers? What if even those who spoke the same language could no longer understand each other; that the breakdown was not just about words and sentences, but deeper.
I believe this is a story about losing a shared language.
A shared language of the heart.
A shared language to community and a higher cause.
It’s as if we do our best to obfuscate any shared language of the heart with judgment, prejudice, hatred, self-absorption and greed. But we do so to the diminishment of our heart and spirit.
We need Mother Teresa’s reminder, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
Because we live in a world divided, it is too easy to forget. Our world is rocked with uncertainty, suspicion, fear, and in Annapolis this week, “simmering anger.”
It’s not surprising we too often, don’t have words.
“Today, we are speechless,” The Capital Gazette wrote this past week. “This page is intentionally left blank to commemorate victims of Thursday’s shootings at our office.”
Okay. So, let’s talk about the shared language of the heart and why it is we come untethered.
Three years ago, I waited in a Seattle DMV to renew my driver’s license. We are always quick to grumble that we don’t have any free time. Well, stop by the DMV. You’ll be amazed how much “free time” you’ll be granted. I held ticket number R141 (R120 had just been summoned), and a good book kept me company.
My number is finally called. I stood at the counter.
Read line two, the clerk tells me.
AODFPO I tell her, guessing about two of them.
Good she says. And then; The shootings, they were something weren’t they?
(The San Bernardino shootings at the County Dept of Health Christmas party. Fourteen people were killed. Twenty-two seriously injured.)
I look up and realize she’s talking to me. Or maybe, like any of us when we are thunderstruck, we are just trying to find words. Or maybe, we just need someone to hear the words that we have.
Yes, I tell her. They were something.
How do you know? She goes on. I mean, I could just come to work one day. And then craziness. So how do you know?
Her comments could be rhetorical I tell myself. Or maybe she really does want someone to reassure her.
I look at the woman helping me, early 40s I am guessing. Is she a mother? Spouse? Friend? I wonder.
It’s easy to be afraid, she tells me.
Yes, I say, it is easy.
So, what can we do? What can we do?
I was going to say, I don’t know, because the truth is, I don’t know.
Except this. I know that on this ordinary day, when our world has been shaken and we know that chaos can be real, we do have this: A meeting place. On common ground. And I would say, on holy ground. And while we know that we can never be perfectly safe, we know that even there we can reassure one another and look into the eyes of one another, and remind one another that there are truths greater than fear.
What I told her was this, Well, I don’t know all the answers, but these kinds of conversation sure do help. Thank you for talking to me. Maybe it would be good for you to talk with your co-workers too. We’re better together. We need to remember that we belong to one another.
But here’s the irony. Our journey to healing and wholeness (hope and courage and light) does not begin with bravado. It begins with vulnerability. It begins when we know that our hearts can and will break and that it is in the very breaking…
that we can get up…
that we can try again…
that we can choose to love instead of hate…
I walked out of the office into a gray December day with a new driver’s license. And something else; an unexpected gift in my spirit. That on an ordinary day with two strangers, the light of restoration and resilience spills one conversation and one encounter at a time. Before I started my car, I sat. And said thank you to no one in particular. I realized that a stranger gave me a gift with her vulnerability. I know that whenever anything unnerving happens, we want to hide our brokenness and our vulnerability. Because we live in a world of bravado and swagger.
Which takes me to our need for sanctuary. Because the power of the sanctuary (the gift of nourishment and renewal) creates the space for wholeheartedness, which begins with vulnerability.
Henry David Thoreau talked about not wishing to live “too thickly” – barraged by noise or clamor or hype or panic. Count me in. I know that whenever I am burdened with worry or disquiet or fear, I am tempted to shut down my heart, to not listen to my heart, to not speak from my heart, and to not offer sanctuary to those who need it. And I don’t want to live that way.
So, here’s the deal: Today, I do not wish for my heart to be calcified. Because when I give in to fear, I choose and act from cynicism and anger and resentment.
This week every one of us will walk, journey, show up for work, attend parties, strike up conversations, stand in line in the DMV… in precarious times. That is undeniable. And to pretend otherwise is silly. But we get to say how the story ends. This week; Be open to the gift of conversation. Even if that conversation is presence without words. Be open to the spirit of comfort and inclusion and kind-heartedness.
When the U.S. didn’t even qualify for the World Cup, I thought it would be better for my blood pressure. Not true. Watching these matches has been the best of drama in sport.
Yesterday, a large group gathered at the Church of the Holy Spirit to remember Steve Self. An islander who left a mark by his presence of authenticity and grace. RIP Steve.
And today, the Special Olympics U.S. Games opened here in Seattle, proudly with the mantra, “Choose to Include.”
Quote for your week…
I am a child of God who believes that we are all children of God and we are all part of each other. May we all know peace. Thich Nhat Hanh
Photo credit — Mack Alexander
POEMS AND PRAYERS
So this morning, as I look into your eyes, and into the eyes of all my brothers in Alabama
and all over America and over the world, I say to you, I love you.
I would rather die than hate you. And I’m foolish enough to believe
that through the power of this love somewhere men of the most recalcitrant bent will be transformed.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Loving your enemies, Sermon)
Startled By God
Walking in the woods,
I was startled by God,
when a poppy stood in my path,
when a twig snapped,
and a branch fell to the ground,
when his foot touched the ground,
right near me,
when a doe ran
in circles around me,
trying to draw me away from her fawn,
when a violin sang out to me,
asking me to forgive the past,
and begged me also to forgive,
every wound caused
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
St. Francis of Assisi