He shall teach you all things
The school year runs out in the week of Pentecost. Pentecost marks at once the Jewish festival of Shavuot, a harvest festival and a celebration of the giving of the Law, and in the Christian understanding, a celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit to give birth to the Church. Wind and fire and the speaking in tongues are the distinctive and outward signs of the Pentecostal event. And yet for all of the emphasis upon the ecstatic and the experiential, the whole point of Pentecost is on teaching. Jesus explains that the Holy Spirit “shall teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” There is a clear sense of the interplay of Word and Spirit.
Peace and order and unity are the defining themes of Pentecost but they are all about God’s peace, God’s order, and the unity of God in whom we alone find peace, order, and unity. The point is that we can find none of these things simply in and of ourselves. In that sense, Pentecost is about the redemption of our humanity.
It is neither reductive nor gnostic. It is not about the collapse of God into the material world (reductive) any more than it is about a flight from nature and matter as if they were somehow evil, as if spirit and matter were to be understood in some sort of fatal opposition (gnostic). Precisely through the wonderful yet elusive images of wind and fire we are opened out to the mystery of God at once with us and beyond us. Precisely through the differences of languages that so often divide and separate us we are recalled to the truth of God, to a unity of the understanding that grounds the diversities of human language and culture in what is universal; in short, in God. This is enormously suggestive and speaks, I think, to the diversities of culture and language at our School.
For in the story of Pentecost, one thing is heard in and through the diverse tongues of the peoples of the world. That one thing is the praise of God. “We do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.” Pentecost celebrates the unity of God in whom true diversity is found and is redeemed. Instead of separation and opposition, there is unity and truth found in and through the diversities of tongues and cultures. This is profoundly counter-culture because the emphasis is on what is understood as one in and through the differences of culture and language. We are reminded of our humanity as one, as universal not in spite of its diversity but through it. The insight of Pentecost is that the human community has no unity in itself but only in God.
Just as God cannot be reduced to the world and cannot be collapsed into our humanity, so the true forms of human diversity are only found in God and not in our ideological assertions that pit one against another. This view of things is grounded in the life of God revealed to us by Word and Spirit. God is at once transcendent and immanent, both beyond and near. We are gathered into the mystery of God.
This is beautifully expressed by the seventeenth century poet and priest, Thomas Traherne, who captures something of the mystery of God and the mystery of our humanity.
God is so Transcendent in His Essence, that He is wholly without, and wholly within us, at the same Time: and so Mysterious, that He is wholly everywhere: and so Beautiful, that He is everywhere ours, and wholly ours. He that is without, unless he be within, cannot be Enjoyed. for whatsoever is seen, is in the Understanding; and whatsoever is Enjoyed, is there Enjoyed. All Things therefore being within to be Enjoyed, how much ought we to live within, that we might Inherit All Things?
Such things speak to the intellectual life of the School. On that score it is good to remember the seven gifts of the spirit that speak to the spiritual nature of our lives. Drawn from Isaiah 11 and largely through the Greek Septuagint translation that Jerome for some reason followed in his Latin translation of this passage, those gifts are “the spirit of understanding and wisdom, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and piety, and the spirit of the fear of God.” The Hebrew text which has come down to us and which was used by Tyndale, the King James version and many modern translations mentions only six gifts. The Greek Septuagint added piety or Godliness.
Piety in its truth signifies the Godward direction of our lives and the sense of our participation in the life of God here and now. It requires of us a sense of self-awareness of which metanoia or repentance is a major feature. Thus School year runs out in wisdom, the wisdom of God which is the ground of all our thinking and being. It is all and always about the teaching. May that spiritual wisdom be with us all.
My thanks to all who have patiently followed these weekly Chapel reflections. I wish you all a restful and thoughtful summer and especially a fond farewell and every blessing to all our graduating students. Gruße Gott. Go with God.
(Rev’d) David Curry
Chaplain, English & ToK teacher
Chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy