Can you imagine communicating with another person without some kind of shared language system (even if it was limited to gestures or stick figure drawings)? It would be extremely challenging or impossible to convey anything without some shared sense of how to describe life.
Speech is broadly defined as "the ability to express thoughts and feelings through sounds or signals." It's such a fundamental part of daily life that we often overlook it. However, speech is no wallflower. The words that we think, verbalize, read, and write shape how we experience reality. Without them, we're left without an inner life or sense of our place in the world.
The complexity of human speech distinguishes homo sapiens from other creatures. While linguists and biologists don't know definitively where speech came from or how it evolved, we do know that it is a tremendous responsibility. What we choose to do with our words in the 21st century will forever impact the health of our species and our planet. What meaning will we make? What priorities will we pass along? Like a loving parent encouraging a frustrated toddler, God invites us, too, to "use our words" thoughtfully.
The annual festival of Pentecost is an occasion to honor the power and responsibility of language. Congregations around the world annually celebrate Pentecost 50 days after Easter. This year that celebration happens on June 4.
The biblical book of Acts describes the amazing scene that inspired the celebration. Not long after Jesus' ascension into heaven, a large crowd gathered together in Jerusalem. Out of nowhere, a giant wind rushed through the vicinity and a flame rested above every head. People were instantly bestowed with the ability to speak in a multitude of languages that were decipherable by all the locals.
Everyone was shocked. Access to language opened wide the doors of communication, and new possibilities were suddenly available that hadn't been there before.
Pentecost is a celebration of the Holy Spirit's unpredictable, beautifully chaotic movement. Though the Spirit of God is everywhere and all the time, at certain times, her wise winds blow with extra boldness. In these moments, the Spirit stirs the pot until it overflows. Pentecost was one such overflowing.
Similar stirrings happened many times throughout the stories of the Bible and throughout world history. That stirring continues in our lives and world today whenever we hear voices advocating in justice, mercy, and compassion. The Spirit moves through the power of speech; it is a tool that motivates, encourages, provokes, and inspires!
When the Spirit moves, we are invited to participate and respond just like the folks who felt the flames back in Acts, chapter 2! In the hymn God of Tempest, God of Whirlwind, writer Herman Stuempfle prays for the Spirit to stir the pot: "God of blazing, God of burning, all that blocks your purpose, purge! Through your church, Christ's living body, let your flaming spirit surge! Where deceit conceals injustice, kindle us to speak your truth, kindle us to speak your truth!"
This Pentecost weekend, like every weekend, we listen, observe, and respond. Can you hear the whisper of the wind? Can you feel the heat of the Spirit's flame? In what ways is God calling you to use your words? How is the Author of Awareness inviting you to listen to the words of others?
Listen closely. Feel the breeze. Observe the flames. Notice the Spirit in our midst boldly stirring the pot that all creation might experience justice, peace, and compassion.