Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘pentecost’

Understanding Each Other’s Languages

John 7:37-39, Acts 2

multilingual-content-strategyImagine 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.

Hawaiian-Pidgin-EnglishPidgin 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.

sukkahA 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
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.

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Pentecost Inside, Spirit Outside

John 14:8-17; 24-27

 

What is on the inside eventually shows itself on the outside.

emotionsHave you seen the Pixar movie Inside Out? Many have, but just in case you missed it, Inside Out’s story revolves around a young girl named Riley, who is uprooted from her comfortable Minnesota home when she moves to the busy and chaotic San Francisco.

rileyHer emotions—Anger, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Joy—disagree on how to handle this dramatic change.  Their disagreements start to stir up trouble in Headquarters, the central living and working place for the five emotions, and the audience is invited to watch as Riley and her emotions navigate and interact with the world around them. Inside Out illustrates how our minds react in social situations and create, process, and alter memories.

 

In essence, the movie confirms a universal truth of humanity:

For every feeling we have there is a thought, for every thought we have there is an action, and for every action there is a social reaction.
Take a look at the many emotions of Riley.

Inside Out is indeed about our emotions, and additionally, I also think it leads us to think about our spirituality, which is in fact related to our emotions. If you’re wondering what I mean by spirituality, for the sake of this conversation, take it mean: a sense of connection to something bigger, A universal human experience—something that touches us all.

We all feel emotions. We all try to navigate those emotions. We think about our emotions. We all act on those thoughts. And our actions affect those around us.

Are you with me so far? I hope so. Now, stay with me, if you will, as I relate this to this thing called “Pentecost” in the Christian tradition.

 

Pente is a Greek prefix for the number 5 or the number 50—depending on the context, and would have been said by Greek-speaking Jews centuries ago. Later on, in Eastern Christianity, Pentecost was designated as a festival celebrated 50 days after the day when people commemorated the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

But Pentecost as a festival did not originate in Christianity; it comes from the Jews.

It was called the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot in Hebrew. This festival will begin Saturday, June 11th and end on Monday, June 13th. People will read the Torah, fast, eat special foods [specifically dairy products], and pray.

Shavuot is a celebration of the gift of the covenant—in other words, the giving of the Law [Torah] to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Jews celebrate Shavuot 50 days after the first Seder meal [linked to Passover] to remember the Torah and God’s promises.

Honestly, Pentecost [for most Western Christians] is not much of a consideration. Christmas [although less a spiritual tradition] and Easter are more known and widely observed. Pentecost is less-known, perhaps because it is about something called the spirit, and that in and of itself might seem elusive. Biblically, the tradition of Pentecost is based on the story in the book of Acts in the NT where the Spirit descended on those who were followers of Jesus Christ. Pentecost was historically known as the “birthday” of the Christian church, at least symbolically.

We are looking at John’s Gospel, however, and not Acts. John does not refer to any such event but instead tells the story of Jesus of Nazareth and his understanding of the Spirit.

And I will argue that this Jesus teaching in John is an “inside-out” teaching.

You see, Jesus’ followers, before and after his death, were not sure that they had what they needed to navigate life. It’s the universal idea of scarcity, that our ability to wake up, breathe, and to be alive is not enough. There is something missing.

We can most certainly empathize with the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. No question about it. They wanted concrete answers about the meaning of life. They wanted assurance that they wouldn’t be all alone. They were human.

And Jesus’ message to them reflects that. It is a message of help, comfort, and truth. Jesus promises that the spirit will be with them—no matter what. No wait—the spirit is also IN them. The word for spirit is Paraclete and originates from ancient Latin and ancient Greek. It means mediator or advocate. But if we really want to dig into its original meaning, a Paraclete is a person—someone who consoles or comforts, one who encourages or uplifts, one who refreshes, and one who literally stands with someone and intercedes on her behalf. This is the Spirit of truth, not like the world promises, not like preachers, churches, religions, or companies try to sell you, but the spirit who lives in you, and she will always be in you.

Jesus wasn’t done. The spirit also leads to peace. Peace is eirene in Greek, which is a translation of the Hebrew shalom. Shalom is more than absence of conflict.  It includes maximal well-being for people and for society. Shalom is characterized by wholeness, healing, abundance, concord, reconciliation, social harmony, and spiritual and physical health.

We must notice here, however, that all this happens within the context of great sadness.

In the story, there is no repression of sadness here. Those who loved Jesus knew he was dead. But the message of John is honest. Sadness is recognized as something vital to our well-being, something to mindfully embrace—rather than to suppress. And the presence of the spirit speaks to this. The spirit is ever-present, even in our sad times. The difficult emotions that we often try to push down are recognized. The disciples felt sadness on the inside and expressed it on the outside. The spirit of wholeness, forgiveness, peace, and balance was also on the inside. How would they express that on the outside?

It is a legitimate question, and one that both Inside Out and John’s Gospel challenge us to ask ourselves. We feel all sorts of emotions inside.

How often do we suppress those feelings?
Are we honestly thinking about our emotions and where they come from?
Are we aware that our thoughts about our emotions lead to actions?
And, are we aware that our actions affect those around us?

Friends, maybe the religious significance of Pentecost isn’t widely known or observed, and perhaps that is okay. The idea, though, that a spirit lives in each one of us and accepts us as we are, and actually encourages us to be honest about what we feel, moving us to honest and compassionate action with others, is a beautiful and transformative thing. Keep in mind that this spirit of love, wholeness, and peace is poured out on all people; that should be emphasized. This spirit is freedom to be yourself; you don’t have to suppress who you are. This spirit makes all things new—meaning that each day of your life is a new beginning. No matter what happened yesterday, it’s over! This spirit brings life and makes you come alive, realizing that you have all that you need. Scarcity is not the problem; believing that you are not enough is the problem.

The spirit reminds you that if you love yourself as you are and you love others as they are, you keep the commandments that really matter.

Who you are on the inside shows itself on the outside.

So embrace, on the inside, a peace that lives in you—not the false peace that leads to more suffering, but the peace that is wholeness of heart, mind, and body. The peace that says to you: there’s no need to be afraid. Be bold, be strong–be you! This spirit moves you to be your higher self but also moves you to accept when you fail, when you are sad, angry, happy, or joyful. The spirit accepts all your emotions.

This spirit lives in you; now allow it to be evident on the outside in how you live and treat others.

The Three Ps, Every Day

John 15: 26-27, 16:4b-15     Inclusive Bible

Note: Paraclete can be translated: one who consoles or comforts, one who encourages or uplifts, one who refreshes, and/or one who intercedes on our behalf as an advocate

When the Paraclete comes, the Spirit of Truth who comes from Abba God, whom I myself will send from my Abba—she will bear witness on my behalf. You too must bear witness, for you’ve been with me from the beginning. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you. Now I am going to the one who sent me–yet not one of you has asked, ‘Where are you going?’ You’re sad of heart because I tell you this.

Still, I must tell you the truth: it is much better for you if I go. If I fail to go, the Paraclete will never come to you, whereas if I go, I will send her to you. When she comes, she will prove the world wrong about sin, about justice and about judgment: About sin—in that they refuse to believe in me; about justice—because I go to Abba God and you will see me no more; about judgment—for the ruler of this world has been condemned.

I have much more to tell you, but you can’t bear to hear it now.

When the Spirit of Truth comes, she will guide you into all truth. She won’t speak on her own initiative; rather, she’ll speak only what she hears, and she’ll announce to you things that are yet to come. In doing this, the Spirit will give glory to me, for she will take what is mine and reveal it to you. Everything that Abba God has belongs to me. This is why I said that the Spirit will take what is mine and reveal it to you.

graduation_capsGraduations are upon us.

It’s that time of year again when high school, postgraduate, and graduate students line up in robes with funny hats and tassels. After a painful race to the finish line of exams, papers, projects, and theses, they will sit in seats for a couple of hours listening to speakers and hearing their names called. They’ll march up to the stage and shake some faculty members’ hands; they’ll get a diploma [or in some cases an empty container, because their diploma gets mailed to them afterwards]. People will clap and take lots of pictures. Parents and grandparents will cry.

And pretty much all of the graduates will be in a state of shock and wonder.

Is it really over?

All the work, all the stress, all the challenges, experiences, and all the friendships?
Is it really over?

I remember all three of my graduations as being completely surreal. I mean, how can you really sum up years of your life in a ceremony that lasts a couple of hours? The truth is that you can’t. The robes, funny hats, tassels, diplomas, and ceremonies just don’t cut it. Yes, we mark these occasions as special, because to some extent, they are. But certainly, a graduation ceremony is no more special than any of the days or moments during the four years of high school or college. Certainly, those years are not defined by a piece of paper called a diploma. What about the relationships you forged? What about the challenges you overcame? What about all the things you learned, not just from books, but the things you learned about yourself, others, and the world?

We put so much effort into marking the occasion of graduation.
But once the hats are thrown up in the air and the parties end, what next?

Will tomorrow also be a special day with funny hats, robes, and celebration?
This is the question I would like for you to consider.

Is it possible for everyday to be a special day?

Mull over that for a moment.

And now, let’s move from funny hats to funny words, all beginning with the letter p.

Paraclete, Pentecost, and Promise anyone?

Certainly, the first two “p” words are strange.
What do they mean anyway?

Let’s start with Pentecost.

Pente is a Greek prefix for the number 5 or the number 50—depending on the context, and would have been said by Greek-speaking Jews centuries ago. Later on, in Eastern Christianity, Pentecost was designated as a festival celebrated 50 days after Resurrection Sunday.

But Pentecost as a festival did not originate in Christianity; it comes from the Jews.
It was called the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot in Hebrew.

This festival began Saturday, May 23rd at night, and continued through Monday. People read the Torah, fast, eat special foods and specifically dairy products, and pray.

Shavuot is a celebration of the gift of the covenant—in other words, the giving of the Law [Torah] to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Jews celebrate Shavuot 50 days after the first Seder meal [linked to Passover] to remember the Torah and God’s promises.

And now, what in the world is a Paraclete?
No, it’s not a pair of soccer shoes that float through the air.

parachute

Paraclete originates from ancient Latin and ancient Greek. It means mediator or advocate. But if we really want to dig into its original meaning, a Paraclete is a person—someone who consoles or comforts, one who encourages or uplifts, one who refreshes, and one who literally stands with someone and intercedes on her behalf.

This is often why Paraclete is translated advocate in English Bibles. But as you can see, Paraclete is the word used in John’s Gospel, and its meaning is wider than just advocate.

And the last p word you’ve heard before, but do you really know what it means?

Promise.

promise

Certainly, there are types of promises, some of them being: vows, oaths, commitments, and even legal contracts. The type of promise that goes with the other two p words of Pentecost and Paraclete is really none of those types of promises.

It is a covenant promise.

Keep in mind that a covenant is very different than a contract, which is based on law, and often built on fear. A covenant is based on grace, and built on love.

Covenants have a growing edge; they are fluid; they don’t impose limits.
In a covenant, accountability is mutual.

And finally, covenants require community affirmations and re-affirmations.

Of all the three p words I’ve mentioned, perhaps promise is the most important one, or at least the word from which the other two flow. There is no Pentecost with promise. There is no Paraclete without promise.

You see, Western Christians are notorious for marking liturgical days [like Pentecost], putting on strange robes and funny hats, giving special speeches, and observing one day as an extra special one.

But that’s not at all what Paraclete and Promise are about.

The Paraclete, the Spirit of God, is a promised reality. The Spirit is not limited to a day, or a time, or a place, or even to a religion. The Spirit flows as it wishes, and it flows through all. And the Spirit is part of the covenant promise, for the Spirit flows with grace and fills with love.

I return to the question I asked you to consider:

Is it possible for every day to be a special day?

Consider: what if every day were Pentecost?

No waiting for some mythical “Holy Ghost” to come down, or for some second coming—no waiting. Today.

What if impatience for “better days” or anxiety over what is to come took a back seat to the realization that today, right now, there is spirit, and promise, and life?

How would that change our living?
Our decision making?
Our treatment of others?

The Spirit–She is already here—proving us wrong when we say that there are only certain days that are special, only certain times when we can be filled with compassion, understanding, and joy. She is here today, standing beside us in times of need and standing up for that which is right. She is in us and around us, and so every day is an opportunity for us to change, to discover ourselves, to find wisdom, to listen, to learn, and to love.

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