Saturday, 30 May 2020

Pentecost Sunday : Language

Every Pentecost I speak about the miracle of language: “And how is it that we hear,each of us in our own native language?” Language is a textured complexity; the acting schools will remind you that the words themselves are only a minor part of any communication, with our facial expressions and tone of voice far and away dominating the story. During lock down I have been doing a couple of things which may have a bearing on this - listening to France Musique and also an audiobook edition of Oliver Twist. 

In the first case during a news bulletin there was a description of how the virus beginning in  bagts “S’est passé par un petit animal qui s’appelle un Pangolin.” In the measured and gentle tones of a (proper) French accent I developed a sympathy for the little animal which previously had been to our minds a hard scaly insect ridden malevolent creature responsible for devastation in unimaginable degrees.

And a single sentence from the beginning of chapter 27 of Oliver Twist:

“As it would be by no means seemly in a humble author to keep so mighty a personage as a beadle waiting, with his back to the fire, and the skirts of his coat gathered up under his arms until such time as it might suit his pleasure to relieve him; and as it would still less become his station, or his gallantry, to involve in the same neglect a lady on whom that beadle had looked with an eye of tenderness and affection, and in whose ear he had whispered sweet words, which coming from such a quarter might well thrill the bosom of maid or matron of whatsoever degree; the historian whose pen traces these words - trusting that he knows his place, and that he entertains a becoming reverence for those upon earth to whom high and important authority is delegated hastens to pay them that respect and to treat them with all that duteous ceremony which their exalted rank and (by consequences) great virtues imperatively claim at his hands.

Which when translated means “I will take up my story where I left off.” These words take us unerringly to the dark smog of Dickensian London and an age that was all its own and where we wait with held breath for the next issue of the magazine Bentley’s Miscellany.

All those people, the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, those from Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia ,Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt, parts of Libya, Cretans and Arabs heard not just the words, the consonants and vowels of their languages but the cadence, the tone, the whole message with their hearts. The miracle of the Holy Spirit is so much more than  a “Google Translate” for they each heard the words of Peter perfectly. Of course any miracle must be perfect, by definition, after all it is a gift from God. The Holy Spirit came and still comes  to speak to us on any wavelength, in whatsoever ways we find most easy to ways that we can take into our hearts and which can change our perceptions and our souls in ways we may not yet imagine.


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