With all the fuss about people hearing Galileans butchering their own languages with their heavy accents, where are the people curious about the fire sitting on top of these folks’ heads? (“Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.” It isn’t clear when the fire went away.)
Babies. Babies would have noticed the fire. Perhaps it was for them. When they begin to babble, I am told, babies all do it in the same pre-language. They make the same sounds. There’s a reason it’s called Babbling. As they become more discerning, provided they can hear sufficiently well, they will begin to distinguish the sounds of a distinct language, the one which surrounds them, and their sounds will become more focused toward learning to speak that language. But babies learn to speak by looking as well as by listening. They pay a whole lot of attention to people’s faces. That’s why a baby will stick her tongue out at you when you talk to her: she is hoping that if she wiggles her tongue like she sees you doing, she will find herself magically able to pronounce the words, “Can I have a cookie?”
Babies would notice something like fire on top of people’s heads before they noticed that the person on fire was speaking ancient Gallic with a strong Galilean accent. So perhaps the Holy Spirit included the visual for them. Or for those for whom spoken language was a mystery even later in life.
Joel’s list of those upon whom the Spirit of God would be poured out is not exhaustive but expansive; before it begins to list categories, it embraces them under “one flesh.” Including the very young and the very hard of hearing. All shall prophesy.
How do the babies in our congregations prophesy to us? How do they mirror to us God’s relationship to “all flesh”? Do they point at flames of fire? Do they babble? Do they mimic us (if so, we had better be careful how we teach them)?
How do the people who are too innocent to know that drunkenness does not keep to a disciplined schedule prophesy?
What are those who cannot or do not hear us telling us that we cannot or will not hear?
How do we make space, give voice, recognize the fire of those who prophesy in our congregations from whom we rarely hear, whose accents are thick, whose languages are foreign, who speak with tongues of flame or who babble, so to speak?
“I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; … I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”
Are we listening?