Sunday is the feast of Pentecost, the day that falls forty-nine days after Easter. It is remembered by Christians as the day when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples of Jesus as tongues of fire.
At my Roman Catholic alma mater, there was a stained glass window of the Pentecost event that featured the apostles and Mary, the mother of Jesus. Red, disembodied tongues floated piously over their heads, and with a stretch of the imagination they could be said to look like flames. It seemed to me a rather gruesome image when I was an undergraduate.
Now, as the feast of Pentecost approaches, I recall that window as a powerfully subversive image: the God whose word has been enshrined on the page had given ordinary human beings the authority to speak on God’s behalf. What kind of God would do that?
Maybe a God who wasn’t afraid of the alleged imperfections of ordinary human beings would. Maybe a God who wanted to empower ordinary voices to be extraordinary would. I think of Mary, mother of Jesus, and I imagine a woman—of all people--being given the power to speak for God. Then I look at my two small daughters, and I imagine their voices being given the very same power—to speak boldly, with authority. What kind of God would do this? The kind of God who was willing to share power and authority. The kind of God who valued what each voice could bring to the conversation. A feminist God. Am I right?
As I celebrate Pentecost with my daughters, I will share with them the story of the tongues of fire, and I will tell them that Pentecost was the day when the most powerful voice of all invited those who weren’t powerful to speak up, loud and clear. And maybe they’ll learn from their God a lesson in listening to the voices of others—and most importantly, listening to their own.