Pentecost is the overlooked festival of the Christian year. Yes, many pastors will put on a red shirt and/or a red stole. There may be red geraniums or even red kites hanging from the ceiling as we did beautifully in one New England Church I served. However, the majority of the people will wonder about all the red and then hear the scripture read in many languages, some by immigrants that know the language well and others by youth still studying. It is often a lovely and meaningful service reminding us that the Body of Christ is larger than our congregation, or even our native tongue.
Now I know that Jesus speaks--we have four Gospels who have recorded many of his sayings, parables, and sermons, and often they even agree. God speaks. It is how creation came into being, through God saying, “Let there be…” and God would proclaim it “good.” Not to mention the many great conversations in Scripture, including times when God requests bare feet. The Holy Spirit, however, does not.
There are some places, like Acts 8:29, where it is recorded that Peter was told by the Spirit to go to a chariot. However, these few places where it says the Spirit spoke are very generic; for instance, in this Acts passage earlier it was an angel, or in the 1 Timothy 4 it says the Spirit expressly says, but it really is not clear it was a quote from the Holy Spirit. Rather, it is how humans have collectively interpreted what they had been led to by the Spirit.
So the Spirit has no words, and that makes perfect sense, for if God creates with words and Jesus is the Logos, I need one face of the Divine to be beyond language. Language is entwined with culture, and it is true that we desire God to be our cultural compass, but as you may notice, language changes more through human influence than anything else. Many of you may recall when “regular” gasoline meant leaded, but today “regular” means the lowest grade of gas available. Can you tell me the day that changed? I am sure you can think of other words that have changed meanings, or mean something different in different cultures.
Therefore voices in our heads are from society and culture, even when you meditate and pray alone as Jesus teaches. Language is a societal and cultural reality; thus to know what is beyond our culture, beyond society, you need to communicate not through words but through actions. And the actions we see Jesus model, the Logos, are love, forgiveness, and compassion (specifically from the gut in the Greek). And this is important, for if you think you can find your “true-self” via listening to the words put on your heart, you inherently will have the white-noise of your culture to attend to as well.
That is when the Spirit comes in, with a loud noise and a rush of wind to get your attention, and all the Disciples started talking and understanding each other. Our 21st century heads (and 20th century for that matter) see this story more like the Star Trek translator and not the beautiful story I have heard every parent live into when they speak to a little baby with made up sounds and “words.” The parent is simply expressing love, with a Goo-goo-Ga-ga. Love is the language of the Holy Spirit without human culture, thus without spoken language.
Language is important and unique to humans, and every day I work hard to communicate with my son using words. I tell him every day “I love you.” However, in all honestly I know actions speak louder than words, which I believe is what the Holy Spirit reminds us. And the Holy Spirit demands us to ask this question, “Are we interconnected by culture and the flesh, or are we connected by the Divine and spiritual—that is known not by language alone, but by the action we have labeled love?”
My son would say, “…” and I answer with a hug, and a teary-eyed, “I love you” or “Is breá liom tú.”