The Word in the Wings
From the studio: moving our questions
By: AUDREY HAMMITT
Editor’s note: After the company explored Genesis 11:1-9 using the inductive method for Bible study, company artist Audrey Hammitt led a scripture-and-movement activity to foster further engagement with the passage. She conducted her own close study and reflection on the “Tower of Babel” narrative in order to develop a movement prompt that would hold the ambiguities of the text honestly and use movement to express faith-filled responses to God’s word. In this post, Audrey references Scripture from the NIV translation.
The people’s motives were self-serving, rather than serving God. The story points to God in the end because Babel was named for the Lord’s action: “because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world” (Gen. 11:9b). I also noticed the repetition of, “let us,” which is used by the people and God, and which reminded me of God saying in Gen. 1:26, “Let us make mankind in our image…”
The word “confuse” stood out to me because I didn’t recall many instances where confusion is mentioned in the Bible, much less God actively confusing something–language, in this passage. It is significant to point out that the NIV says that God “confused the language,” rather than “confused the people,” which is what I would think when “confuse” is used in daily life. However, I could imagine how confused someone in that situation would be, going from knowing what everyone around you was saying to not understanding those same people.
Since God says that “nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them” (Gen. 11:6b), I wonder, what was God preventing in confusing the language and scattering them? What were the core mistakes or sins of the people in settling down–especially in the way they were working together? Had they not been told to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28)? What would it have been like between verses 7 and 8 as the people were being scattered?
I didn’t really make it as far as answers to these questions, and that made me think that maybe answers aren’t the only thing to be seeking in Scripture and even in life. But instead of avoiding the questions with merely a “His ways are higher than ours,” I am still yearning to see and understand the passage as something good – because God only does good, not evil.
This passage expands my appreciation and wonder of creativity and points me to other times that God separates to bring back together–separating the waters (Gen. 1:6-8) and separating woman from man (Gen. 2:21-24)–as well as my own experience of how insight and creativity feels like fireworks or an explosion of connections. Having various dancers create their own movement builds upon this theme of how starting from a central idea (a Scripture passage, in this case) can spread out in many different directions and expressions.
Before our inductive study, I was planning on focusing on the confusion aspect, but after seeing the several questions that came up in our study, I wanted to give us the opportunity to dive into our own confusion and lack of clarity or cut-and-dry answers through movement.
Although I believe many Christians (and even non-believers) know the basic story of the Tower of Babel, I wanted us to uphold and investigate the mystery and consequences of this brief, yet significant story. I wanted us to discover the diversity of each other’s creative expression, which highlights that there can be good resulting from making diversity, like how God mixed up languages.
MOVING OUR QUESTIONS
After we had our inductive study on the passage the previous day, I realized I wanted to return to the questions we came up with to give us more time with them and to process them through movement. After re-reading Gen. 11:1-9 and re-reading the questions that came up, I prompted the dancers to pick a question and create movement from it. I said, “Identify a question that arose from reading this passage and create movement from it. It could be making connected movements as if you were saying the question in a sentence structure, moving how the question made you feel, or trying to give an answer to the question.”
Some similarities I noticed in the movements everyone created were spreading motions, such as reaching fingers or hands away from each other; back-and-forth movement or up and down movements; and movements with hands.
Some dancers found it easier to come up with movement from a question versus a statement or specific truth or feeling. Each person had their own distinct yet consistent movement quality. Although among the group there was a diversity of movement tempi and qualities, an individual mainly kept their own movement similar to itself, whether that was sharp or swirling motions.
SEEKING GOD THROUGH OUR QUESTIONS
This movement activity encouraged me to hold questions and uncertainties and bring them before God. Sometimes it can be tempting to try to find one solid take-away and avoid the uncomfortable or unclear things we read in a Scripture passage. As we considered and processed through movement the questions like, “Why did God want to confuse the people’s language and spread them out?” I was stirred to try to see things from God’s perspective, with the lens of God’s compassion and wanting our good, as a way to know and honor Him.
I and others discovered that questions can inspire movement as real and valid as statements or other movement prompts can. I connected this to how we can seek God and fellowship with Him and others through our unknowns and questions as much as we can with things we are confident in or have more faith in.
As I think about applying this passage, it reminds me of Psalm 127:1: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” God wants and delights to be included in our work. He can use confusion and seemingly devastating circumstances to draw us back to Himself. It can be easy to only see the differences in people, rather than the similarities we share. Trying to find comfort and satisfaction in what I do, rather than helping others or giving God the glory is not going to fill me or succeed. God hears my questions, confusion, longing for understanding, and He is with me through them. As I pursue Him, that is where He wants me, and any scattering or breaking apart in my life will be for my good. We can have hope and confidence that what He redeems and brings back together will be even more beautiful than the individual pieces alone.
With the future of God’s kingdom being made up of every tribe and tongue, we can know that Babel is not the end of the story. We are not left isolated, misunderstood, or scattered. As we share His kingdom with the world, it’s as if He is spreading His arms wide to embrace and gather every nation and individual on the earth so that the whole earth may know Him and worship Him in one, multi-faceted voice that echoes for eternity.
All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing the praises of your name.
Psalm 66:4 (emphasis added)
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