John 7:37-39, Acts 2
Imagine this scenario: You are stranded on a remote island somewhere in the Pacific [no, not Waikiki] and you encounter another person on the island. You are overjoyed that you are not alone, except that both of you speak completely different languages and cannot understand what the other is saying. You don’t have electronic translators or apps for your phone…all you have is each other, pen and paper, and the ability to make sounds. Would you both be able to communicate effectively and if so, how long would it take? What do you think?
Some of you know that I lived in Hawai’i for three years, on the island of Oahu. People there wouldn’t hesitate to answer this question. They would say: “Of course. Of course we would be able to communicate.” Why? Because the great people of Hawai’i know all about pidgin and creole.
Pidgin and creole are terms that linguists use to distinguish between 2 very different forms of speech. Pidgins are simplified languages that develop as means of communication between two or more groups that do not have a language in common. This has happened around the world. On the Hawaiian islands it happened on the plantations and on boats. Originally, pidgin was a combo of Hawaiian, Cantonese, English, Portuguese, and Japanese. Then, they added Filipino languages, Korean, and Puerto Rican Spanish. It is important to note that people who speak a pidgin language claim another language as their first language.
Creoles, on the other hand, are languages that the children of pidgin speakers develop. As the kids grow up, they expand the vocab, pronunciation, and the grammar so they can eventually use it as their main language. Isn’t that incredible? I experienced this in Hawai’i with teenagers who spoke a very complicated and diverse form of Hawaiian pidgin that technically should now be called a creole.
One more linguistic thing before we move on. There is such a thing called mutual intelligibility. This is when people who speak different languages can understand each other because the languages they speak have some sort of relationship with each other. An example: if you speak Spanish as your first language, technically you can communicate with Galician, Portuguese and Italian speakers. It gets even more fascinating when you consider the cultures of people who live on the borders of their countries and often interact with others/cross those borders. Their languages reflect that interaction and often, they develop a pidgin or even a creole language that is a combo of the languages of various countries.
All this talk of language and communication leads us to Pentecost, a Christian holiday that is always celebrated on the 50th [thus Pente] day after Easter. It is a festival that reminds Christians of the giving the Holy Spirit to the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. But, it really is Jewish. The Feast of Weeks was and is a Jewish festival celebrated on the 50th day after Passover. So, you see that followers of Jesus just continued on with Jewish tradition, but with a Jesus twist.
There’s another important festival/religious time to mention. Jesus, as a Jew, observed succot, or what is often called the Feast of Tabernacles.
A really cool looking sukkah, no?
That is what we see in John 7. The feast was seven days long, a major feast to remember the story of Moses out in the wilderness. Moses struck a rock and water came gushing out of it like a geyser. Typically, a Jewish priest would go into the center of Jerusalem and find a large spring [pool of Siloam anyone?] With the water bubbling up, the priest would dip a pitcher of water. For seven days the priest would do this: dip the pitcher in the spring and then carry the water to the temple and pour it out there.
All this is important to know, because with this info you can imagine Jesus watching the priest perform this ritual with the water when Jesus said this:
When the Spirit comes and lives in you, out of your heart shall flow rivers of living water.
This Spirit, which is interchangeable with living water, takes center stage in the story of Acts. It was the Feast of Pentecost of course, and a strong wind came and no one knew where it came from. The wind filled the place and then the Spirit filled the place, and the people. It was like fire. And the people gathered there started to speak different languages and understand each other.
He Qi, Pentecost
A lot to unpack here, but let’s keep it simple. This Spirit that is given to everyone takes shape as wind, fire, water. The Spirit fills people regardless of age, background, past, or identification. The Spirit gushes out as an overwhelming spring of water. The Spirit brings together people who on the surface would never be together, never speak to one another, certainly wouldn’t understand each other. And this is more than just linguistics. When I say understand each other’s languages I mean more than just verbal or nonverbal communication.
Understanding each other’s languages means hearing each other’s authentic stories.
It means welcoming those stories, providing a safe space for them to be told, and then not judging those stories—just listening to them and accepting them. It is a powerful thing, don’t you think? If someone really hears your story without judgement? You walk away from that interaction feeling alive, connected, understood. This is the Spirit. This is what we need to do and be for each other.