Saturday, June 17, 2006

When God Comes Down

The narrative of the tower of Babel (Gen. 11) is often understood as the judgment of God over a proud human project: reaching the heavens through building up a tower. In order to stop that attempt God would scatter the people and confound their language. A closer look poses some deeper questions: In the Bible, more often than not, being scattered is a blessing rather than a curse. Such is the case of the children of Noah that after the flood and the subsequent covenant that God makes with them are scattered and re-populate the earth giving birth to different ethnicities and tongues (see Gen. 10:4, 20,31 and 32)

However, the inhabitants of the Babel are afraid of being scattered. They take refuge in their monolithic identity. Their efforts are directed toward only one city, one tower, one language. In such efforts the interaction with what is different disappears before the preponderance of what is familiar. What is foreign and different becomes undesirable.

Considering that the energy with which we can set ourselves to try to erect the towers of our group identity at the peril of all others, we can ask ourselves: Could it be that being scattered, more than being a curse would be God’s blessed way of liberating us from becoming self enclosed to the extent of turning into a rigid “insider’s club”. God “went down” and intervened in favor of diversity. It was only after the inhabitants were prevented from building a colossal “city” that they were able to begin building different and distinct “cities” in places where they were once again scattered.

The same type of openness and sending occurred in the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:5-12). God “comes down” upon those that were gathered in the upper room and they go out to speak in a way that others could understand them. With that initial impulse the apostles were set in a trajectory toward “the ends of the earth”. It would be only as they ventured into the foreign lands of the Mediterranean, Greece and Rome -as they heard their strange accents and observed their unfamiliar ways of living- that they became “good news”.

The openness that Spirit carves into the heart of the community of faith prevents it from being stuck in a set conception of God, itself and those around it. The Spirit is the only impulse that can turn our often self serving institutions into communities that live in the risky reality of being sent to transform and being transformed as they go. As soon as a society, organization or church begins using all its energies to hang on to a crystallized identity, vocabulary or system of thought, it begins to die. Before God comes down our rootedness becomes confinement, our apotheosis degenerates into sclerosis. When God comes down the apparent weakness of being scattered becomes our true strength. My confidence is that the living presence of the Spirit promised by Jesus to his Church will continue to give us the courage to be the people of God scattered beyond our walls and among the often unfamiliar realities and territories of today’s society.

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