By Sarah Stanley
After participating in quite a few retreats and immersions and other group events, I have become pretty familiar with “get-to-know-you” questions or other ice-breakers. One of my favorite questions is, “If you could have any super power what would it be?” to which I respond that I would love to be able to speak and understand any language in the world.
How absolutely incredible would it be if you could communicate with anyone no matter where you were?
My family hosted an exchange student from Germany while my sister was in high school and to this day I am envious of her knack for languages. Only a teenager and she was fluent in German, English, Spanish and French. Impressive, right? I cannot even master a second language let alone three on top of my native tongue.
In the first reading today I imagine those present were both mesmerized and terrified of what they were witnessing. The room they were in filled with a loud noise and tongues of fire came down upon them. Y’all, I would be so scared. But then we hear that they were given the ability to communicate with one another even though they all came from different places and were speaking their own language and proclaim the goodness of God.
And they were understood.
On my first trip outside of the United States I was nervous about the language barrier that would exist between myself and the friends I would meet. I was headed to Nicaragua on an immersion trip and had never taken a Spanish class, so communication was clearly going to be a breeze… I was equipped with my pocket dictionary and an open mind as I entered my host-mom, Doña Lorena’s home and while there was no “noise like a strong driving wind” or tongues of fire,
we were able to communicate with each other and we did so by means of patience and love.
I’ve been blessed to be able to travel to other countries as well as back to Nicaragua since my first visit in 2009 and I wish I could say language skills have improved, but alas, they have not. As much as I try to learn other languages, I still fumble over vocabulary and pronunciation and cannot conjugate a verb to save my life. But with every visit to a different country, it never ceases to fail that once a spirit of patience, love and gratitude is introduced,
language is no longer a barrier.
And so part of me wonders what that miracle on the first Pentecost looked like so long ago. Was language no longer an issue because those present were graced with that incredible super power I mentioned earlier? Or could the “mighty acts of God” that were spoken have been demonstrations of patience, kindness and love? Honestly, for me both would be just as miraculous-–especially today when communication is often impeded not only by differences in language, but by the refusal to communicate with others who speak your language if their opinions differ.
Imagine if world leaders gathered in a room and a spirit of patience and love descended upon them like “tongues as of fire.” Veni, Sancte Spirirtus! Come Holy Spirit!
Love is shown more in deed than in word and so if God is love, maybe our actions can proclaim the mighty deeds of God and speak more to who God is than words can say. And maybe that’s the gift of the Holy Spirit, that peace that Jesus shares with the disciples in today’s Gospel. He breathes the Holy Spirit on them and calls them to actively forgive and thus bring peace.
Happy Pentecost, friends.
And may the Peace of the Lord be with you always.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hey there! I'm Sarah, a small town Ohio girl who is mildly obsessed with all things Jesuit and is very passionate about faith, social justice and the intersection of the two. I'm in the third (and final!) year of earning my Master of Divinity Degree from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, CA. When I'm not surrounded by piles of school books I enjoy travel, running, contagious laughter, clever puns and finding the good in all things.
Check out Sarah's blog at simplysarahs.blogspot.com