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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Undoing Babel

- The Pentecost by Jean Restout

I've never been very comfortable with Pentecost. I think that stems from two things .... one is that Jesus had to leave for the Holy Spirit to come, and I would have rather kept him around ... the other is the oddity of Glossolalia :-)

One of the things I've read about Pentecost is that it undoes the badness of the Tower of Babel. As James Alison says in Knowing Jesus .....

At the beginning of Acts, Luke tells the story of Pentecost. The story of the tongues of fire which came down and permitted the apostles to preach in all languages is not simply a description of what happened, it is at the same time the un-telling of another story, the story of Babel. That story, which occurs in Genesis 11, is about the human attempt to construct unity, and about how it led to chaos, separation, and breakdown of communication ...... The arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was the arrival of the crucified and risen Lord and the undoing of Babel .....

Fr. Alison also has an article on Pentecost from last year at The Tablet that elaborates on the idea above. Here below is just the ending of that article, The Wild Ride ......


What is the shape of our Creator's protagonism? One of the terms which emerges most frequently is "Advocate" – meaning "Counsel for the Defence" – in other words someone who is For Us, undoing all and any sense of cosmic conspiracy. The Protagonism, the driving force of the Spirit, is For Us, it is not out to get us, or entrap us, as other spirits, both sacred and secular, do. And the Protagonism is in the process of turning us from being a "they" into a "we". Our very pattern of desire, which is the basis for our "self", is being transformed from within, so that we learn to desire anew, and thus to become new from within. And the route to this is the Spirit stretching us in prayer. By the Holy Spirit God is no longer an "it" which is outside us, or even an "I AM" in whose presence we are always a "they". By the Holy Spirit we are being taken into the inside of God's life, so that our very "I" might become part of the "I" of God who has risked sharing that with us: this is what Paul understood when he says: "It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me". He has not been displaced by a spirit, but recreated from within by the Spirit.

At Pentecost the real protagonist of Creation emerges. And it becomes clear that Creation itself has become, and is becoming, a human drama in which we participate starting from where we are. One of the first moves of this driving force would be to set up the dwelling of God with humans as something which is not sacred, as the doomed Temple was sacred, hence the apparent secularity of the New Temple, consecrated in an Upper Room. A short time later the purity legislation which marked off the sacred from the profane will be brought down, with the baptism of Cornelius. And so the shape of the Protagonist reveals itself to us, neither sacred nor secular, but Holy, creating a relatively benign secular that is able to bear witness to the glory of God by manifesting Creation coming fully alive. And ever since then, the wild ride has been on, and the rows about what it all means, and the deep peace which goes with being carried into the heart of God.



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