This past week I asked my husband what he knew about tongues. His response: “All I know is that it is the strongest muscle in the body.” I’ve heard that a bunch too, but I don’t think I could bench press anything with my tongue. It turns out that it is NOT the strongest muscle in the body. In fact, it is made up of eight different muscles. They are the most flexible though, which is why we are able to use these muscles all day and our tongue doesn’t get fatigued.
Another misconception I’ve always thought about the tongue is that all the little bumps are taste buds. It turns out that they are called papillae. They do house the taste buds, but they themselves are not the taste buds. I didn’t even know there were different kinds of papillae and that their other purpose is to help move food around in the mouth. It makes sense. Think about it. I’d imagine our mouths would be less adept at eating if we had perfectly smooth tongues.
Before this week, I clearly didn’t know much about the physical form of the tongue. I guess it makes sense that I would’ve never really had a need to deep dive the internet for information about the tongue, but this week it sounded like fun. I got on this particular Google spiral because this past Sunday was the feast of Pentecost. If you went to Mass, then you heard the 1st reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1-11) which included the lines, “Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.”
Now I am a very visual person and so I was trying to visualize this insane scene in my head. I’ve seen many different artworks depicting this scene, but they just didn’t do it for me. Some examples:
Why didn’t they do it for me? Because in each one, I would never in a million years have looked at these pictures and said that those little red/orange blobs above their heads were tongues. The verse says that TONGUES of fire appeared to them. Even before my googling this week I knew that these small fires do not look like the form of the tongue. Tongues are already a weird blob sort of shape, so they are already hard to distinguish when not in the context of the mouth, but then you add the flickering aspect of fire and it would just be hard for me to call them tongues even if I had been in the room (if it looked anything like these paintings).
Thank you for bearing with me as I went on this strange little trip through my thoughts. You probably are expecting me to have some amazing insight about the mystery of God within this text, but I don’t. What I have is that I spent a LOT of time looking into this verse and looking at artwork depicting it. This is the same verse that I’ve heard dozens of times in my lifetime, but THIS time I looked at it differently. This time I thought about it and prayed about it and pondered it. I feel like when we have big feast days or holy days in the Church where we read a particular reading every single year, we stop listening to it and thinking about it. We walk into Mass with the mindset that we’ve already heard this story a thousand times, there’s nothing new we can gain from it.
This is a mistake. First of all we can always learn new things from scripture. God is constantly revealing Himself to us in different ways, even through the same old words. OR he could be telling us something that we’ve gotten out of the readings before but needed to hear again because of where we are in life today. I’m not saying every time you hear a common reading you’re going to get something life changing from it, but I’d encourage you to listen, to ponder, to pray. Really take time with these readings even when you’ve heard them every year. You might have weird random thoughts about the physical appearance of tongues, or you might have a deep revelation. Either way, diving into scripture, really listening to what God is saying, is never a bad thing.