Posted by: jevcat | May 27, 2010

Pentecost Meanderings

Life has been hectic and challenging the last week or so, with family and financial worries and what feels like non-stop activity leaving little time to write.  There have been some good and quiet moments sandwiched in there, though, and some seemingly unrelated themes that came together on Pentecost:  patience, community, compassion. 

My Beloved has an interest in Buddhism that began while he was serving in Indochina.  We’ve both been so stressed, so when we saw that a Buddhist monk was giving a “teaching” at Staten Island’s Jacques Marchais Tibetan Museum, located on a lovely, quiet hillside.  His subject was patience and how our lack of it hurts us and gives no benefit.  Compassion, he said, was not just for others but for ourselves, as well, and learning patience was part of having compassion on ourselves.

I was still thinking of this on Sunday, when Pentecost rolled around.  A tremendous splurge, we had bought tickets to hear the Dalai Lama speak at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on kinship of peoples and religions – an appropriate topic for Pentecost – and how compassion leads us to have the patience to listen to each other and find common ground, to find community.

Pentecost – what a holy mess!  I imagine the disciples following the Holy Week/Easter/Ascension rollercoaster suspended, sort of just bumping into each other:  “Okay, what do we do now?”  And waiting.  Jesus had told them to wait for the one who would come.  Patience.  It’s not something I’m good at, but sometimes life leaves you no choice.

While they waited, there was a holiday:  Shivuas, the Festival of Weeks, fifty days after Passover; Shivuas, which in the Greek that was everyone’s second tongue back then – the “bridge” language between groups – was called Pentecost, as it still is by Christians, though most of us have no idea we’re celebrating a Jewish holiday.  So they were gathered together and “whoosh!”:  rushing winds, tongues of flame, speaking in strange languages – really too much for nine o’clock on a Sunday morning, not to mention the knowing looks, elbows to the ribs, from onlookers:  “Getting a head start on the celebrations, are you?”  Who’s going to believe you?  If Acts is to be believed, apparently some did, at least after Peter’s speech patiently (that word again) explaining.

I wonder what they were saying in those tongues, and I wonder, too, if those speaking  that first Pentecost after the Resurrection understood what they saying.  I suspect not.  I suspect they had to be patient enough to wait, and hear from others who understood what the meaning was.  It was through that community – through those interlocking communities of different ethnic groups – that understanding was given.  So it may be that a Parthian heard something he or she needed to hear and used the common Greek to tell the speaker, whose native language was Aramaic, what it meant.  Or maybe the Parthian heard something important for the Jew – no one called them Christians yet – something he would not have understood alone.  Without community, it wouldn’t happen.

Even in our own language, we don’t always understand what’s said – even when we are the speakers.  We have to wait and hear someone else tell us; we need to speak, hear, and listen – to ourselves, to others, and to what others are telling us about ourselves.  We have to have the patience – and the compassion – to hear, to be open to community both with those who are like us and those who are not – and so to understand.


  1. It seems to me that Pentecost was the day when we first got the message from G-d that understanding each other was what we were here for. Understanding each other would build the Kingdom of G-d, word by word (as physical kingdoms are built stone-by-stone).
    Patience is terribly hard. Mine is barely a fraction of a mustardseed. Pentecost gives me hope, though. You do, too.

  2. When, like myself, you reach a certain age you have the privilege of looking back seeing that what you were impatient about worked out in a way you couldn’t have possibly imagined or looked for. If you read again my April 22nd post you will see that even though I had no idea at all about what I was going to do without my grandmother or how I was going to earn a living, God led me in the directions he wanted me to go. Gradually, as all of this was happening I started to learn patience to see where it took me.

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