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Spiritual Growth

Mutuality Between Hearing & Speaking

A Reflection on Pentecost

By Glory E. Dharmaraj

The story of Pentecost is one of those moments that knocks the breath out of you, and awakens you to watch people’s faces and listen to what they say.

Scripture: Acts 2: 1-21

There are three mystery-surrounding festivals for me in my home called Christianity:

  • Christmas
  • Easter
  • The Pentecost

These three defining moments shut down conventional understandings and habitual responses. Have you ever been cast on such a moment in your personal journey?

I have been. Let me recall two such powerful moments.

Distance Between Ear and Tongue

When I joined the Women’s Division staff in the early 1990s, Murden Woods, a staff member who had been a missionary to India and Pakistan, welcomed me in the official language of India, Hindi. Not expecting an American woman to talk with me in fluent Hindi, I stood in front of her, baffled and confused. I did not hear what she spoke. It took a few seconds for me to speak to her in English saying that I least expected anyone from the division to welcome me in the official language of India. We were friends from that instance.

Another such moment happened in the Midwest where I was a graduate student in the 1980s. In one of the ecumenical gatherings, a native Midwesterner who was a missionary to Malaysian rubber plantations, welcomed me in impeccable Tamil, my mother tongue, saying, “Praise be to the Almighty.” This was a greeting used by Christian workers when they did home visitations. I stood in front of him baffled and speechless. It took me a few seconds to reciprocate his greeting by saying, “Praise be to the Almighty God for meeting you,” in my mother tongue.

On each of these occasions, I had created, unbeknownst to me, a distance between my hearing and speaking; between the gift of ear and the gift of tongue. It took me some time to reduce the distance between the two in my mind caused by my preconceived notions about who speaks which language, even within my home called Christianity.

Sound and Flame

The story of Pentecost is one of those moments that knocks the breath out of you, and awakens you to watch people’s faces and listen to what they say. On the day of Pentecost, the sound of the Spirit broke into the house like a strong wind blowing. The sight of the Holy Spirit happened like flames of fire dancing, striding and descending on every one present in the house.

God’s signature of tongues of fire was writ on everyone in the house.

Everyone in the house.

These God-breathed people spoke in different languages. Into this soundtrack entered people from diverse backgrounds who had come to visit Jerusalem as pilgrims. Onlookers from every country in the then known world were astonished to hear the native speakers of Galilee speaking in languages other than their own, in the languages of the hearers, in fact.

Telling and Listening to Stories

The Spirit beckons us still in these times of

  • Total secularism
  • Economic uncertainty
  • Backlash against immigrants
  • Distance between understandings of self and the other 

The Spirit awakens us in our home called Christianity to recalibrate and reshape our participation in God’s mission in the dynamic fluidity of the wind and the flame; so that we can see and hear what the Spirit is doing outside the bounds of church buildings and connect ourselves to a worldwide movement of the Spirit in such times as these.

It is time to reclaim the inaugural moment of the Church, the day of the first Pentecost. My colleagues in the General Board of Global Ministries led us into the reduction of the distance between telling and hearing during a worship service using the following two stanzas of songs, one familiar, one recently composed.

We’ve a story to tell to the nations,
That shall turn their hearts to the right,
A story of truth and mercy,
A story of peace and light,
a story of peace and light.
For the darkness shall turn to dawning,
and the dawning to noonday bright;
And Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth,
the kingdom of love and light.

(Words and music: Ernst Nichol, 1896)

We’ve a story to hear from the nations
That shall turn our lives upside down.
A story of strength and struggle,
a story of hope and light.
For our arrogance will turn to sharing
and our blindness to full clear sight;
And Christ’s great kin-dom will come on earth,
the kin-dom of love and light.

(Words: L. Katzenstein, J. Lockward & K. Masters. Public domain)

To me, the origin of words is a fascinating story. The word gospel is a combination of two words, God + spel (story). God’s story needs telling and retelling. Telling needs tellers, listeners, eavesdroppers and a gossip! Let us keep on gossiping the gospel. 

Glory E. Dharmaraj, Ph.D. is Director of Spiritual Formation & Mission Theology for the Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Ministries. 

Last Updated: 05/21/2010

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