This week Craig reminded me of an article, The Pressure to Modernize, in which linguist and author Helena Norburg-Hodge tells the story of her experience in Ladakh, “Little Tibet,” in India.
When Hodge first visited, she found a place rich in culture and pride. She describes people who did not know poverty. People worked together. People of all ages gathered to tell their story, through music and theatre, and dance. It was a regular part of community…
Until 1975 when tourism began: modernization, technology and Western money streamed in, and began to erode the self esteem of the Ladakhis. They began to feel insecure and impoverished in comparison. Their culture shifted on many levels. It eroded the spiritual power of their stories - even changed their understanding of their own history. Within eight years they no longer gathered to dance and sing and celebrate in the same way. They felt inadequate against the famous musicians and actors they had been introduced to.
Have you ever heard of Joseph Campbell? He was a professor who specialized in comparative religion and mythology. He wrote several books… But one particularly called The Power of Myth I discovered through a Bill Moyers series on the radio when I was just out of high school. I was fascinated! The power of archetypes, the hero’s journey, and how myths reveal spiritual experience.
The thing about myths is that they engage our imaginations, especially children. Myths are a powerful way to tell stories. They inflate imagery, create archetypal characters, enlarge the scope of things to provide a narrative that helps us share or remember deeper truths. They often teach about a cultures’ values and mores (while not speaking about particular factual events.)
We are accustomed to Jesus’ parables, but sometimes we fail to stop and think about the purpose of the other stories in the Bible, that are also parables or myths used to describe the way things are…
And not simply the way things are, but in the Bible it is a way of explaining how things are especially through a covenant lens…
We are covenant people which is what Judaism brought to the World - and what Christianity is built upon: Before Judaism and during the formation of Judaism in this area there were many Gods being worshipped…
Judaism brought us Relationship with one God; a mutual relationship - give and take… not simply being at the whim of various Gods…but with promises made to one another.
In our first story this morning… This is early, early early (obviously) Genesis. It is about the created order of things and very much incorporates early Myths found throughout Mesopotamia and the Middle East - drawing them into this covenant lens…
Mythological in nature and yet with truths to be mined… As Jesus would say, “like the pearl of great price”….
Not just to describe who God is… but to help us define who we are.
So, we consider: In the beginning
every one spoke one language! And then out of our hubris (which isn’t too hard too imagine) we decided we could build a tower all the way to Heaven. (A hierarchy of course: the narrative puts God up there at the top.) Yet, we thought we could become as powerful as God.
So the story goes…that God confused our language, so we couldn’t understand one another… and then scatters us across the face of the earth.
Two things, yes: A way to tell our children a story about how we have so many different cultures and languages, while also instilling a lesson about power (that as a covenant people, we believe, that it is God who has “the kingdom, the power, and the glory” - and not one of us).
In our second reading: When the day of Pentecost had come, there is a gathering in Jerusalem for the Festival of Weeks (otherwise known as the Feast of Harvest. Shavout. It occurs seven weeks after Passover (about 50 days). Pentecost means 50, so the Greeks named this festival Pentecost.
Like at Passover, there were people from many nations gathered in Jerusalem. It is one of the three times the people are appointed to gather in Jerusalem…and the peoples have come from all over (many nations as the passage describes).
Suddenly a great wind or breath moves over the disciples with flames that look like tongues and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and the ability to preach the Gospel in every language. People wonder how this could be?! That they understand!
Pentecost in Christianity represents the day the Holy Spirit was revealed to all people…our advocate and guide who Jesus had promised will come.
It is contrasted with the tower of babel to show that this scattering of nations has been healed by the peace of the Holy Spirit lighting upon us with a united understanding of the heart: the advocate who provides wisdom, advocacy and consolation.
But the Tower of Babel remains a potent myth and a cautionary tale for our world today.
I often refer to the internet as “the tower of babel”. The internet has created a global network with an ability to communicate vast amounts of information over a fast distance in a short period of time.
We have a tool very much like the tower. Rather than being a forum for global diversity and the exchange of ideas and coming to understanding and solutions, it is supporting so many social media forums where we have become politically polarized.
And in our hubris we are responding to our anxiety, insecurity and fear, with censorship and a cancel culture. Some voices have been given the authority to say what voices and what conversations are legitimate, what ideas and what people are safe.
It is becoming a tower for a limited few with the hubris to decide what voices matter. Scholars, artists, clergy, doctors, reporters have had entire catalogues, interviews, decades of work erased overnight.
Ideological and political narratives seek to conform rather than unite us in thought and spirit.
The Holy Spirit is about unification, the ability to understand one another, but not because we have become homogenized: But in union to communicate lovingly in our diversity. A spiritual life is supposed to help us commune better with the knowledge and love of God.
As I said earlier: Not just to describe who God is… but to help us define who we are.
The Holy Spirit, the giver of life, guides us not only in our journey with God but in our pilgrimage with one another.
Today we celebrate the Coming of the Spirit. Hold strong to our narrative. We gather each week to tell our story, to sing or read psalms, to read aloud from ancient manuscripts, to celebrate a memorial supper, to remember and to praise God so that we know ourselves.
We are not that unlike the people of Ladakh.
The World would offer us a tower: a hubris that seeks to erode our identity, create doubt and insecurity.
But The Holy Spirit is to comfort us in our anxiety, provide advocacy through our insecurity, and peace in our fear.
Jesus promised, the Giver of Life "will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."