One of the most striking sentences in the reading from Acts (2:4) describes people speaking different languages, yet still being understood. We all know that even those who speak the same language can have a hard time communicating. Pentecost reverses The Tower of Babel story, which tries to explain why people began speaking in different languages. The people that day achieved understanding, despite their linguistic differences.
Pentecost continues today, as African students in an ESL classroom learn English and across the hall, North Americans learn Spanish. A young California woman who had emergency gall bladder surgery in a Tokyo hospital felt alone and afraid, unable to communicate with or understand her nurses and doctors. She was placed in the oncology ward because a few nurses there knew some English. But another patient broke down the language barrier. She simply lifted her hospital gown and showed the American her scar, a silent signal that she could relate to the girl’s pain.
One way to celebrate Pentecost is to appreciate the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work in our lives. The processes of ordinary living are so fragile, so immensely significant, so fraught with terror, that we desperately need someone beyond ourselves. We need the warmth and power of the Spirit to help us in whatever we have undertaken.
If you look back over the last 5, 10 or 20 years, where could you could say this? “Ah yes. So you, life-giving Spirit and Guide, were there all along.”
What I find most amazing in this passage from Acts is the work of the Holy Spirit in the listening, in the hearing. And it is so for us in our sorting out of the Divine Message from all the other messages, noise, chatter, in our lives, in this world, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
In my chaplain work in the prisons, God is always speaking to me through the men … if I listen carefully. Whatever I have to say merely provokes the loving response.