We Are All One Body
[On Pentecost] devout Jews from every nation…gathered…and each one heard [the others] speaking in the native language of each.—ACTS 2:5–6
We adopted our sons from Guatemala. Two of them came into our family as tiny babies, and I find it amusing when people ask if they had trouble learning English (they didn’t) or if they speak English with an accent (they don’t).
Research suggests that babies are born ready or “wired” to learn any language. It seems that we gradually unlearn our ability to understand languages foreign to our environment and retain only the ability to understand the language(s) of our family. It’s fascinating to realize that before this unlearning occurs, no language is foreign to a newborn baby.
On Pentecost, we celebrate the birthday of the Church. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that the gathering in Jerusalem included “devout Jews from every nation.” It was like an ancient Jewish United Nations where, without benefit of interpreters or technology, they understood one another.
No language was foreign in the infant Church, but the Church grew up and somehow we unlearned too much. We have forgotten how to talk to one another, how to listen to one another.
When we adopted our sons, they were still Guatemalan citizens. We went through the naturalization ceremony to make them United States citizens. Our oldest son, Daniel, was the last to arrive. He came to us at age ten, so he could speak for himself at the ceremony.
The immigration officer met with us for an initial interview. Everything was going along fine until she came to the question, “In the event of war, will you bear arms for the United States?” Daniel looked confused. “What does ‘bear arms’ mean?” She explained, “Whether you would fight for your country in the military.”
There was a long silence as Daniel pondered. Then he turned to me: “Mom, would I have to fight if the United States went to war with Guatemala? I don’t know if I could kill one of my own people.”
How does a mother answer a question like that? I panicked as I pictured Daniel without a country. Then the officer told Daniel about alternative service that doesn’t involve fighting, and he agreed he could do that.
We celebrate the feast of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ on the Sunday before Memorial Day. The concurrence of these two special days brings to mind Daniel’s concern. As Paul writes to the Corinthians: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:17).
Christians everywhere in the world make up the one Body. Whatever their color, language, or nationality—even if they are living in a country declared to be my country’s enemy—they and I and all those I love are part of the one Body. Like my son Daniel, I don’t know if I could kill one of my own people.
And what of non-Christians? Our Father in heaven is theirs. Our Lord died for them too. What does a disciple of Jesus do when threatened? I haven’t been put to the test. I don’t know the answer. I only know the questions.
One language we haven’t completely unlearned is the language of silence. If you’ve ever been on a silent retreat, you know a bond is created between retreatants that goes beyond what could have been accomplished with idle conversation or theological discourse.
Those who are dedicated to healing the wounds of division might first start with sitting in gentle silence before God. In the language of silence, God speaks and tells us we are one.