There are two version of the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Church. In one, (Acts 2:1-12) a roar of wind is heard outside the room and tongues of fire appear on the heads of the apostles. After, they go outside and preach to people of many nations and languages. In another version, (Jn 20:22-23) the Risen Christ appears to the apostles and breathes on them saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven, whose you retain, they are retained.”
Both versions refer back to stories in Genesis: the Tower of Babel, which describes what happened with the Indo-European languages, is reverse by Luke’s version; the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden for knowing good from evil, is reversed by John’s version. Both versions refer to the gift of the Holy Spirit as language: the tongues of fire as language within each one of us with which we think, and the breath with which we live and talk.
A child is born, swaddled, nursed and loved. Then one day, after a year or two, an ordinary miracle occurs, the child utters their first word. After that comes non-stop talking. Except if the child is born hearing-impaired. That child does not swim in the ocean of language and so teaches us all the importance of hearing and listening in ordinary life and communication.
Today, the wind outside has exploded with the languages of the world. Any and all information is available to anyone at the touch of their fingertips. Long ago, when the secret technology of turning sheepskin into parchment was stolen by the Argonauts and brought to Pergamon, it was called “Golden” Fleece. Now, we see communications and Internet billionaires rich beyond the dreams of avarice.
My mother grew up before the inventions of gasoline, electricity and telephone. Her daily life was closer to the ordinary lives of Biblical times than to that of her own grandchildren. Today, we can be in Moncton and tomorrow in Australia, if we wish. We can eat breakfast and wear clothing from five different continents. Ordinary people enjoy conveniences undreamed of by the wealthiest of the time of Jesus.
When I was seven, I set out at twilight for Jenny’s candy store. I kept walking and walking, not finding Jenny’s. I started asking passersby, “Where is Jenny’s?” and they all pointed ‘that way’, which was behind me. I kept going forward though and saying, “No, I want the one that is this way!” Crying, I kept on going until someone phoned my mother and she sent my brother to collect me.
Our word “conversion” is based on the Latin for ‘turn around and go the other way’. Today, we need to know how to listen but we also need to know good from evil, in all the Internet noise all around us. Will global warming be irreversible because of our gasoline-fired technologies?