Today we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, and one of the aspects of it I always note is the gift of tongues, that the Holy Spirit allowed the disciples to speak in a variety of tongues so that all of those gathered from many lands could understand them. I guess because I’ve always been challenged with languages is one reason this impresses me so much. I know that I can translate certain words that can simply be memorized in a language, or look them up in a dictionary, but there are always grammatical structures and more subtle aspects or even multiple meanings for the same word that aren’t so easy. I know I’ve had to translate a few things in tests where they were long phrases with negatives in them and it was always a challenge to be sure what the negative was modifying, and it just changed the entire meaning of the phrase if you got it wrong. Needless to say I respect an informed translator.
I mention this because there are two levels of communication I think we need to be concerned with for our faith. The first is of communicating with God. Being able to hear Him clearly and being able to speak to Him about what matters to us. Fortunately we are talking about God, and He is really good at this stuff and manages to help us a lot from His end. But we still need to not only take the time to listen, but also the effort to recognize the context He is doing this in, with the whole history of His relationship with man, and also with us specifically. Even the Apostles didn’t get some of the parables Jesus said without His explaining them so we need to consider it might take us a little effort to understand God’s messages at times. And we also need the practice of expressing ourselves to God. Of recognizing what matters and being able to voice that. Communicating a feeling or relationship can be as difficult as describing the color green if we don’t know the word for it.
And the other level of communicating we need to be concerned with is with each other. Talking about our faith can be challenging if we are not used to doing so, and even more when we may not share the same history or beliefs as the other person. In the different Gospels and letters of the New Testament they were speaking to different groups of people, and so they would use different examples they would be familiar with. Different Christians can have slightly different understandings, as can Jews, or Muslims, or even consider agnostics or atheists, are we making the effort to hear and speak to them that is needed, or does it just come across as completely unintelligible?
As we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost lets be aware of how important, and challenging, it can be to communicate about what really matters. But also know the Holy Spirit wants to help us.