Br. Josép Martinez-Cubero, OHC
It was the day of Pentecost, the Festival of Weeks, Shavuot, the Jewish celebration of the first fruits of summer, and the celebration of the giving of the law to Moses at Mount Sinai. Devout Jews are gathered together to celebrate what they believe; that everything we grow and everything we have comes from the hand of God, and the most precious of all is the Torah, the gift of the Law. All are gathered together in one place, and what happens? The Holy Spirit interrupts… a party.
I can just hear myself: “This is inconsiderate. I know Jesus told us he would send us an advocate, but I mean, he should have given an indication of when this was going to happen so we could be prepared. Seriously, he should have scheduled this with us.” But the Holy Spirit is not concerned with my need for neatness, order, organization and preparation. No, the Spirit shows up when she shows up. Our job is to watch and wait and get moving when it shows. The Holy Spirit interrupts what we know or think we know. And it interrupts violently… with wind… and fire… and Galileans.
If you know me just a little bit, you know that I am going to read this morning’s story from the Acts of the Apostles and the thing that is really going to jump at me is the whole bit about: Are not all these who are speaking in our languages Galileans? … They are filled with new wine. And I can most certainly relate with Peter’s righteous indignation when we stands, raises his voice and says: "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning.”
Are not all these Galileans? … Surely they’re drunk. That’s what jumps at me, especially during this past week when I watched in disbelief a video of a white person in Central Park calling the police on a black man who insisted that she abide by the park’s rules and put her dog on a leash. God forbid this black man would challenge her sense of white privilege. “I’m going to call the cops. I’m going to tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life.” Are not all these Galileans? … Surely they’re drunk. That’s what jumps at me in this reading, especially this past week when I watched, with a certain amount of disturbing numbness, a video of a handcuffed black man face-down on the street pleading for his life because he is struggling to breathe as a white police officer mercilessly presses down on the black man’s neck with his knee until the black man stops breathing. Are not all these African-Americans?... Surely they’re drunk.
Even if we have a hard time with the whole idea of miracle, we can get the whole notion of the Holy Spirit interrupting through wind and fire because we can insert the visuals… but Galileans? It really points to the terrible human propensity to make assumptions based on where someone is from, or what they look like, or where they went to school, or where they work, or how much money they have…
And what about the assumptions we make in order to distance ourselves from the person to whom we are pointing our finger? The first thing I thought when I watched that video of the white woman calling the cops on the black man was: “She is a racist conservative.” But she is not. She identifies as a progressive who supports progressive causes and supported Obama’s presidential campaign. So much for what I am sure I know and my neatly black and white assumptions! So when I read: Are not all these Galileans?... and my mind translates it to Are not all these Hispanics?... Surely they’re drunk, I know in my heart that I can choose to leave it at the level of my ego, or I can engage in the much harder exercise of taking a hard look at myself and confessing with humility that I too have Galileans of my own. So when the Holy Spirit interrupts violently through wind and fire, oh yes, that is scary. But when the Holy Spirit gets to us through whoever the Galileans are in our life, speaking a language we can understand… what do we do with that?
Christianity is a religion of language. We monks recite and chant psalms full of words throughout the day. In the creation stories of Genesis, God births the very cosmos into existence by speaking: "And God said." "In the beginning was the Word," we read about the Incarnate Christ in the beautiful prologue of John's gospel. We profess our faith in the language of creeds and prayers and liturgy and music all full of words. And in the Book of Acts, on the day of Pentecost, the disciples were “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability."
Those of us who speak more than one language can really understand that language is much more than its grammar, vocabulary, and syntax. A language carries culture, history, psychology, and spirituality. To speak a language other than one’s own native language is to orient oneself differently in the world- to see differently, to hear differently, to process reality differently. To speak across barriers of race, culture, religion, or politics is to challenge stereotype, and to risk sneers, mockery and ridicule. It is a brave and disorienting act.
What language do we really need to be speaking at this moment in time when our nation seems to be growing more and more tribal and even faith communities turn on each other for lack of effort to learn to understand each others language? How can we learn to speak and comprehend each other’s language so that we can experience the limits of our own words and perspectives? How can we learn to speak and comprehend each other’s language so that we can discover that God's deeds are far too great for a single tongue and a single fluency?
O come, Creator Spirit, come and make within our souls your home; grant us your seven-fold gift of grace: wisdom, understanding, counsel, courage, knowledge, godliness, and joyful awareness of your grandeur. O come, Creator Spirit, come and enrich our tongues and speech with grace, that we may all become your prophets able to speak and comprehend languages across barriers of race, culture, religion, or politics. O come, Creator Spirit, come and shed your love in all our heart, that we may all truly become your incarnate Love and the true Body of Christ. ¡Que así sea en el nombre del Padre, del Hijo y del Espíritu Santo! ~Amen+