A RATHER QUIET PENTECOST
READ: Acts 2:1-8
“When the disciples had gathered for the Jewish Feast of Pentecost [a remembrance of the coming of the Law at Mt. Sinai] the house they were in was suddenly filled with the sound of a mighty wind. There appeared before them tongues of fire, the flames then separated and came to rest on each of the disciples. They were then all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them each to speak. Now living in Jerusalem at that time were many devout, God-fearing people from many different nations. When they heard the commotion, they all assembled at the house to see what was happening. When the crowd of onlookers arrived, they became bewildered for they heard the disciples, most of whom who from Galilee, speaking in different languages so that each of the onlookers in his or her own language could hear what the disciples were saying.” – Acts 2:1-8
At Greyfriars’ Abbey, we have brothers whose native language was English, French, Japanese, German, Spanish, even one who speaks the language of sign language. Our language for everyday use is English with a smattering of ecclesiastical Latin and Biblical Greek spoken now and then. Yet, our Common Language is one of the Spirit, not in the Pentecostal glossolalia expression but in the expression known as the Great Silence or the Holy Quiet.
When I am residing at the Abbey, my favorite time of day is when we enter into the Great Silence following our last prayers together for the day, the Compline. It is a brief service of prayer at 9:00 in the evening, conducted in the chapel by candlelight. We chant Psalms befitting the evening; we sing a hymn or two; we embrace one another in our act of reconciliation; we then pray a traditional prayer, a prayer that serves almost as a lullaby in reverent, holy tones. And then … and then … we enter into and then keep most reverently the Great Silence, all through the night until come time for morning prayers. I love the walk down the long colonnade toward our individual sleeping quarters for it seems that the music, the prayers and even the candlelight all continue to echo as you make your way through the night air, past the jasmine bushes, past the moonlit courtyard to the wooden door of your private room.
This experience of the Great Silence seems far distant from the commotion of that first Pentecost experience, but somehow it is much the same for me. Somehow I feel then the Presence and the Power of the Holy Spirit in a most tangible way, speaking to me in a language that even I can understand, in a most intimate, personal way.
I believe that the Spirit does speak in all kinds of different languages … not only in obviously distinctive dialects such as French, English, Spanish, and such, but also in dialects much more subtle and personalized. You see, I have come to realize that the Holy Spirit tends to speak in the very subtle distinctive dialects of our individual cultures, our individual personalities, our individual histories, even our individual needs and gifts. For example, I am sure that my experience of Christ and the Spirit is influenced by my rural background, my family history, my dealing with depression and other health issues, my creative bent and my love of the poetic voice, my disappointments and my successes, my dreams and my nightmares, my struggles and my joys. I am sure that the Spirit knows how to be Counselor to ME with both a sensitivity to my individual nature and with a language that communicates with my uniquely created soul. And I do believe …yes, I REALLY do believe… that Christ and the Spirit does the same personalized, custom-made ministry with YOU. That is … if we allow ourselves to experience Christ and the Spirit, first-hand, honestly, openly, sincerely and authentically. Too often … our experience of Christ and the Spirit are far too heavily influenced by group dynamics and social pressure .
When my soul is angry, I find the Spirit brings me words of Peace and Mercy. When my soul is arrogant, I find the Spirit brings me messages of caution and humility. When I am weary and distressed, I find the Spirit brings me calming lullabies; when I am fearful, the Spirit bring me cheers of encouragement.
I think that there are many souls among us who somehow want Christ and the Spirit to be but extensions of their own human natures … such as an angry God for an angry human heart. I think that there are many souls among us who somehow want Christ and the Spirit to be “Yes-Men” to our preconceived opinions and already set emotions. I find that my real need is far, far, far from this … my need is for God to be a soul much greater than my own, yet who is able and willing to be in conversation with me, speaking with me in a language that my soul can understand … sometimes confronting me, sometimes comforting me, sometimes confirming my perspective, sometimes correcting my perspective, sometimes giving me a shoulder to cry on, and sometimes giving me a hand to lift me up. No, I do not need a God who agrees with me and my far-too-human opinions; I need a God who will complete me and make me whole, a God who brings a glorious divinity to my humble humanity.
Brother Anthony of the Cross