All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in other languages,
as the Spirit gave them ability.
—from Acts 2.3-11
Other languages. Real languages. The disciples, who spoke Aramaic (and with an accent) suddenly were able to speak in other people’s languages. The true miracle and gift of Pentecost is not ecstatic prayer, but conveying love by bridging differences, by reaching out to the Other. Whatever separates us is the place where the miracle of Pentecost happens.
We tend to see other people as reflections of our own self-image. The more shallow our self-understanding, the harder is is for us to see ourselves in the other, and the less easily we identify with people who are different— in culture, age, religion, sexual identity, politics, life style, mental health, legal status and so on. So we segregate ourselves from people who differ from us. We don’t treat them as beloved people, we treat them as projections of our likes and dislikes of ourselves. They become to us little more than shadows of our fears about our own vulnerability, imperfection, mortality and acceptability. Sexism, racism, and all our prejudices are rooted in this fear.
But God’s love reaches out to the other; it enables me to love one who is not-me. God’s Spirit in us helps us to bridge the divide, to put to death our self-centeredness, to let go of our desire to have the other person make us feel secure, powerful and esteemed, and instead to notice and care about the other person. This is what it really means to love our neighbor. It’s to bridge differences and love the other, to speak someone else’s language. We may not need to do it linguistically, but we need to do it in our hearts. What makes the church one is not that we are all the same, but that we are all different, and we love each other. After all, part of God’s mystery is that God comes to us as the stranger, the outsider, the Other.
May the Spirit give you the language of love.