A few years ago, I came across story of a couple who had fallen in love and had ended up being been married for decades despite the fact that they couldn’t speak each other’s languages. It struck me as a remarkable story that illustrates the power of love to transcend barriers. Searching on the internet, I couldn’t find that particular story, but came across a number of other similar stories.
I found this story of a person called Charly who refers to the marriage of her own parents. She says that her Mom was Romanian, and her Dad was English and neither spoke each other's language for the first two years of their relationship. She describes how they got round it by drawing things, using sign language, and speaking French - a language neither of them spoke fluently. She says that humour between her parents was conveyed with silly drawings and physical humour and concludes that whatever they did, it worked, because they remained married for 28 years, until they died.
There is a similar historical story of the marriage between Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine and King Henry II of England during the 12th century. Eleanor spoke the Occitan language, while Henry and the English court predominantly spoke English and French. And yet despite this Eleanor and Henry developed a deep understanding and respect for each other. They communicated through interpreters and relied on non-verbal cues, expressions, and gestures to convey their thoughts and emotions. They shared a strong bond and collaborated closely on matters of state, as Eleanor played a significant role in the governance of Henry's vast empire.
It seems that the language of love powerful and has the ability to transcend barriers between people.
Today is Pentecost Sunday, and it is traditional on Pentecost Sunday to reflect on the story of Acts 2:1-11 which contains some wonderful and rich imagery for us to reflect on as people of faith.
The first thing we see is the power of waiting. In Acts chapter 1 we find the disciples joining in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus together with several other women, following the instructions of the Risen Christ that they should wait in Jerusalem. As I said in a brief online reflection last week, waiting is not always an easy time. Waiting requires patience. It is challenging to wait. Waiting is a time of uncertainty and a period of longing. But there is also power in waiting as it invites us to nurture our faith in a greater wisdom and to cultivate a sense of inner peace. Waiting invites us to embrace the unknown, and to trust in the unfolding of life’s wisdom.
In this period of waiting we also see the disciples with Mary and the other unnamed women, cultivating a sense of community and belonging. They gather together in unity and solidarity, finding solace and strength in a shared experience of devotion to prayer. Acts chapter 1 and 2 remind us that in periods of uncertainty and waiting we can all benefit from the gift of belonging, community and prayer.
And so at the beginning of the story of Acts 2:1-11, we find the close circle of followers of Jesus gathered together in one place. Their waiting and the solace they have found in community bears fruit as we read that suddenly there came from heaven the sound like a mighty wind filling the whole house where they were sitting. We read of what appeared to be tongues of fire separating and resting up each one of them, and then we read that filled with the Holy Spirit, they began to speak in other languages, and that as a result the crowds of people who had gathered in Jerusalem from all over the then known world were able to hear of the wonders of God’s goodness and love in their own languages.
There is wonderful and rich symbolism in this passage.
Firstly we have the rich symbolism of the sound of a mighty wind filling the whole house in which they were sitting.
The word in the passage that is translated as wind is from the Greek word pneuma. It is the same word we encounter in English when we speak for example of a pneumatic drill, in other words, a drill that is powered by air or ‘wind’.
But the word pneuma in Greek can also be translated as Breathe and as Spirit. And so as we read of the sound of a rushing wind it invites the reader to have a sense of the movement of the power of God’s Spirit at work in the hearts and lives of those gathered together in prayer. It also might speak of the breathe of God’s love, breathing over them and into them, breathing new life and energy into their mission.
Pneuma reminds us that God's transforming love is like a gentle breath, comforting and invigorating. Just as a breath can revive and revitalize, God's love breathes life into our weary souls, awakening us to new possibilities and empowering us to live as agents of positive change. It is through the pneuma, the divine breath, that we are able to embody the transforming love of God in our lives.
The second imagery and symbolism we encounter in the passage in that of a flame that separates and comes to rest of the heads of each of those gathered there together, a metaphor and an image of the fire of Divine Love – a love that transcends all boundaries and barriers. Just as fire spreads and illuminates, so does divine love reaches every corner of our being, filling us with warmth, light, and a sense of connectedness. The tongues of fire on the heads of the disciples symbolises hearts that have been ignited with warmth and love and a new sense of purpose and minds that have become illuminated with a new depth of insight and wisdom that is fuelled by the love.
The combined imagery of the rushing wind and the flames of fire remind us that divine love is not a passive force but an active, transforming energy. It ignites our hearts, awakening us to compassion and empathy. It compels us to reach out to others, to extend a helping hand, and to foster understanding and reconciliation.
And this takes us to the very powerful imagery of the disciples being empowered to speak in other languages.
Acts 2:4 states, "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance." And a few verses later, we read of how those who had gathered in Jerusalem from all around the then known world, are amazed to hear the wonders of God’s goodness and love being spoken in their own languages.
It suggests that as the wind or the breathe of God’s love blows over us and within us, and as the fire of God’s love is ignited within our hearts and minds so God’s language of love enables us to reach out towards others bridging the gaps of language, culture, and experience, enabling us to understand and be understood, fostering empathy, compassion, and deep connection.
It is a reminder that sin, hatred, evil brings separation and division. But love unites, heals, crosses barriers and brings people together.
On this Pentecost Sunday, may the wind or breathe of God’s love blow over us and within us. And may the fire of God’s love and wisdom be ignited within our hearts and within our minds that we too may speak God’s language of love which transcends all boundaries and barriers, filling us with warmth, light, and moving us to reach out towards others, even with those who might seem different from ourselves. Amen.