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The Fortunes of LanguageIn Ayapan, Tabasco, a village in southern Mexico, a tragedy is on thehorizon. As in any other city on any given day, two men have stoppedtalking to each other; they say they have drifted apart and no longer wishto speak. But unlike other cities and other feuding men, the elderly menof Ayapan are the last two remaining speakers of the local Zoque language. Without their attempts to keep the language alive, many fear the languagewill soon become extinct. While the hope is that others will learn AyapanZoque or that the men will choose to pass down the knowledge to theirfamilies, those who study indigenous languages are all too aware of thestatistics. Across the world, the United Nations calculates, one languagedisappears every two weeks. Language specialists remind us that the loss of any language, however fewonce spoke it, is no small loss. "Language death is symptomatic ofcultural death: a way of life disappears with the death of a language,"note authors Daniel Nettle and Suzanne Romaine. "The fortunes oflanguages are bound up with those of its speakers."(1) When the criticalinsight contained within a language is forgotten, an irreplaceableresource has vanished from the world and its future generations, leavingin its place a certain void. The cry to remember is often voiced by thosewho foresee the darkened glimpse of a world that has forgotten. Such adescription is reminiscent of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth at the onseton the story. "The world is changed," says Galadriel. "I feel it in thewater. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that oncewas is lost, for none now live who remember it." Since the biblical story is uttered simultaneously with a cry to remember,it is not surprising that we should find the same quality in the prayers ofits characters. When Jehoshaphat stood up in the temple to pray in frontof the entire assembly, he was speaking a language that sought desperatelyto remember the character of God. "O LORD, God of our fathers, are you notthe God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. O ourGod, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your peopleIsrael and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?" Hisprayer was perhaps even a cry for God too to remember, to bear in mind theLord they had come to know, the relationship God had sought with them, thehistory that existed between them. Speaking this common language andstory, bringing the acts of God in history to the forefronts of theirminds, Jehoshaphat then cried to God to act among them in the present. "Oour God, will you not judge...the vast army that is attacking us? We donot know what to do, but our eyes are upon you" (2 Chronicles 20:6-12). Prayer is a language of remembrance. It is taught by those who have gonebefore us, those who have witnessed the power of God in history, those whowere commanded to remember and now call us to do the same. Speaking this language, teaching our children the fortunes bound withinit, we remember the person of God, and we remember the people we arebefore the throne of heaven. Standing before a religious crowd, Jesusoffered a parable about prayer. "Two men went up to the temple to pray,one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up andprayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like othermen--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. Ifast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' But the tax collectorstood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat hisbreast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner'" (Luke 18:10-13). Tothe shock of the crowd, Jesus then revealed the one who spoke the languageof heaven: "I tell you that this tax collector, rather than the other, wenthome justified before God" (14).Prayer is a language whose fortunes keep before us the person andcharacter of God, even as it keeps before us our own need for the kingdomand its mercies. So too, it is a language that helps us remember thewhole story. On the night before he was placed in the hands of those who would lead himto death, Jesus prayed that God would take away the task that stood beforehim. In prayer, Jesus pled with God to spare him; in prayer he sought theFather's intervention; yet in prayer he remembered the entire story, suchthat even on the Cross he was able to pray for those who had no idea whatthey were doing. On his knees in Gethsemane, Jesus remembered ourdesperate need for his sacrifice. He concluded his prayer to the Father,"Yet not what I will, but what you will" (Mark 14:36). At these words,Christ forever bound within the biblical language a fortune we ought neverto forget. Jill Carattini is senior associate writer at Ravi ZachariasInternational Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.(1) Daniel Nettle and Suzanne Romaine, Vanishing Voices (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 200), 7.------------------------------------------------------------------- Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM)"A Slice of Infinity" is aimed at reaching into the culture with words ofchallenge, words of truth, and words of hope. If you know of others whowould enjoy receiving "A Slice of Infinity" in their email box each day,tell them they can sign up on our website athttp://www.rzim.org/slice/slice.php. If they do not have access to theWorld Wide Web, please call 1-877-88SLICE (1-877-887-5423).
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