Praying for new and better words.
The Feast of Pentecost
Frances Wheeler Davis was a schoolteacher from Winnipeg, Manitoba. She was also a poet. Robert Fleming, originally from Prince Albert Saskatchewan, was a church organist at various churches in Ontario and Quebec. They put their skills together in the late sixties and came up with a hymn called “Let there be light” which appears today in only a small selection of hymn books. Here is the fifth verse:
Your kingdom come,
your Spirit turn to language,
your people speak together,
your Spirit never fade.
The entire hymn is a plea to God on the part of Christian people for light, for healing speech and for understanding between alienated peoples but it’s always the fifth verse which hits me: “your Spirit turn to language”.
The giving of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost is several things simultaneously. It is the confirmation of Jesus’ promise to empower his church and it is the equipping of the church with the tools of ministry. It is the action of God upon human flesh, wills and futures. It is the way in which God will continue to visit, renew and grace human communities with his enduring presence. I’m stuck this week, however, on the power of language to break down barriers between people and the way that language gives to us the gift of the wider world.
The early disciples were provincial people – they spent their early lives living on a tiny piece of real estate in the eastern Mediterranean. They ended those lives, in many cases, as apostles and missionaries to the entire known world. This happened because they were sent out. This happened because they were equipped to minister beyond their cultural communities – to appropriate, even, the language and culture of others to communicate a universal promise of love to an entire world.
Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it
that we hear, each of us in his own native language?
With language we reach out to others. By language we come to understand the world around us. Have you witnessed an older child or an adult overcome a reading or writing deficiency with a little help from a teacher or a therapist? Because of problems in cognition or a neglect of education that child experiences loneliness and isolation. When the threshold is finally crossed, however, and the words on the page begin to live then the young adult may take up the tools by which communities are built, love letters are written and covenants entered.
It is through language (conversation, confession, promises) and not through lonely thought, that dysfunction in our families and communities must be approached. It is by willingly entering into the language of others (listening, learning and understanding) that rifts are healed and the worlds of other peoples become a place of rejoicing and not a cause for fear.
These then are words – use them. Use the words you already have. Pray that the gift of the Spirit, which is the inheritance of all the baptized, turns to language. Pray for new words, if you must, and a spirit to use them boldly.