By the Rev. Mike Marsh
There are moments in each of our lives when we begin to hear a new language. It’s new yet echoes with familiarity. We know it through our deepest longings and desires. If fills us with hope, life, and peace. It lies hidden deep within us. It’s always been there but then one day we hear it in a new way, as if for the very first time. On that day we hear in our “native language.” It describes, reveals, and makes present the deeds of God’s power in our lives. That is the miracle and gift of Pentecost.
It happens when we fall in love and find our lover’s voice does not just communicate information but speaks presence, union, and oneness. It’s that day when all of creation speaks. The birds no longer chirp but sing a song we know. The wind doesn’t just blow through the trees but now whispers stories of our future.
It happens when we discover our vocation, and we know that we are living the life to which God has called us and a voice reassures us, saying, “This is your place.” It’s in moments of joy-filled creativity and we wonder, “Where did that come from? How did I do that?”
It is the soft voice in the midst of sorrow and loss that says, “I am here. It won’t be easy but you will be ok,” and somehow we have the strength to get up and meet the next day. It is the voice of compassion that enables us to care for another. It is a word of encouragement that points the way, a word of truth that causes us to turn around, a word of peace we embody as a reconciled relationship.
These and a thousand others like them are the moments of Pentecost, moments when we know God is not just with us or around us but within us, and we are somehow different – more real, more alive, more whole. These, however, are often not the story of Pentecost with which we are most familiar. Instead, we listen for a sound like the rush of a violent wind to come from heaven and fill our entire house. We look for divided tongues, as of fire, to appear and rest on us. We wait to speak in another language.
Sound, tongues, and languages are how St. Luke describes the day of Pentecost. They are the images we most often associate with Pentecost, but they are not the story of Pentecost. We sometimes confuse the two, the images and the story. It’s easy to do because the images are so vivid, so powerful, so different from ordinary, everyday life. With their power, however, comes danger.
The danger is that we look at these images but fail to see through them. We make the images literal, opaque, and closed rather than symbolic, transparent, and open. We allow the images to define and identify rather than point and invite. When that happens the images lose their power and purpose. They can take us nowhere, and Pentecost becomes a single event in history; unique, limited, and seemingly unavailable to us. Sound, tongues, and languages are not the keepers of Pentecost. They are the pointers to Pentecost.
When we see through these images, we find that Pentecost is happening in all times, all places, and all circumstances. We hear in our “native language.” We realize that Pentecost is not a sound like the rush of a violent wind. It is not divided tongues of fire. It is not speaking in other languages. In and of themselves sound, tongues, and languages have no significance. They are meaningless. Their meaning is found only in hearing.
Hearing is what “amazed and astonished” on the day of Pentecost. They were not amazed and astonished at the sound of wind, the flaming tongues, or the foreign languages. They were amazed and astonished, asking, “How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?”
That means that Pentecost is more than sound, tongues, and languages. Those are just the images of Pentecost. I’m not suggesting the images of Pentecost are not real, but that they are more real than we know. They are the gateway to our own story of Pentecost. They empower us to open ourselves to an invisible world, to cross old boundaries, to be a different way, and to live a new life. They make us “capable of God.” Ultimately, that’s what Pentecost is about, becoming “capable of God.” That is not our doing. It is the Holy Spirit’s doing. The Holy Spirit makes us each “capable of God.” It is unique and personal to each one of us.
If you want to know how you are being made “capable of God” then go to the places where you hear in your own “native language.” There you will hear the stories of God’s presence filling your life. They will be stories of love, hope, joy; stories of patience, gentleness, courage, and peace; stories of mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation; stories of wisdom, creativity, and wonder; stories of healing, life, and resurrection.
These stories can only be heard in our “native language” for that is the language of God. Each one describes the deeds of God’s power in our lives. They are the lived stories of our Pentecost, our being made “capable of God.”
This article appeared in the Spring/Summer 2013 edition of Reflections magazine. To read the entire issue, click here.
“Pentecost is happening in all times, all places, and all circumstances,” says Mike Marsh. “We hear in our ‘native language.'”
What is the language with which God and the Spirit most often speak to you?
Are you listening?