Language and meaning originate not from a fullness trying to communicate itself but from a lack that strives after enjoyment.
Diaspora might be a problem for political progressives for the very reason that it is so alluring. Diaspora promises both freedom and connection: freedom from national borders or the essentialisms of race and language, connection between people who affirm shared memory and heritage.
But heritage is never really free.
This is what it means to be speaking in tongues: not what the empires and the sub-empires of today want to hear—the sound of one voice, one language—but the vulnerable dissenting in their own—the sound of many, the sound of chaos, the sound like the “rush of a violent wind” (verse 2).
Rather than portraying human difference as the punishment of God, Babel and Pentecost are complementary stories, each highlighting God’s intention for cultural and linguistic diversity. As we draw near to Pentecost Sunday, may we also consider the inherent value of language as a cultural identity marker and partner as advocates for language preservation.
Pentecost does not present us with the ideal of the uniform, homogeneous community, but with a divine power that traverses all of our differences. God’s will is to unite us in our diversity, not to extinguish it.
Beyond mere understanding—which we can arrive at with languages not our own—God’s communication in people’s native tongues at Pentecost manifests a deeper commitment to the recipients of revelation. The Holy Spirit addresses us in the language of our hearts and our dreams.