When I taught Middle School in rural Appalachian Kentucky I quickly realized that there are more than different accents around the country, there are also many dialects. I had one particular student who I had a difficult time understanding. During our year together, he taught me as much as I taught him. I learned that a "buggy" is a shopping cart, you don’t cook greens you "kill them," "year’n" is over there, a "fur piece" is a long distance, to be "ate up" is to be infected, a "pole cat" is a skunk, and "Decoration Day" is Memorial Day.
Despite the fact that this student and I both spoke English, there were many times we simply did not understand each other. Thankfully, his cousin was also in the class with us and often provided me with some much-needed interpretation. Neither of us had a better way of speaking English. As a matter of fact, I would learn many of the words he used were easily found in the dictionary, but had gone out of use in the part of the country I grew up.
This month we celebrate Pentecost. The word comes to us from the Greek "Pentekoste," meaning fiftieth and refers to the festival celebrated fifty days after Passover known as the Festival of Weeks, which is a harvest festival. In the Book of Acts, we discover that after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, his followers were gathered to celebrate the harvest festival. (Jesus followers were predominantly Jewish and continued worshiping in the temple and keeping the Jewish holidays long after Jesus ascension.) It was during this celebration of the bounty and gifts of God that the Holy Spirit comes rushing into the room as a violent wind. Suddenly, the Apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit. This gift of the Spirit seemed to allow them to speak in a way that everyone could understand, regardless of the dialect or language they spoke.
While thinking about the upcoming celebration of Pentecost, it struck me how the church is still full of people who speak different languages and dialects. I am not referring to the church being global. Rather, how even those of us who speak the same dialect of English still speak in different "languages." Some people have no problem using words to express love, while others express love in their actions. We are all unique and gifted with our own understanding of who God is based on our experiences with the Divine. This is why I often tell potential visitors that we invite them to come worship with us, not like us. They are welcome to come think with us, not like us.
Pentecost is much more than celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church, it is celebrating the gift of unity in diversity. We may understand God a bit differently. We may express our worship a bit differently. But who can understand God? If God were fully knowable then God would no longer be God. Instead, we each get a small piece of understanding into who God is to share with others that they may more fully know God. So, this month I challenge you to listen closely to the heart of people. You may learn something about God you never dreamed.