A few Sundays back we had a Ukrainian family attending our worship service. They are staying with a kind local couple until hopefully they can find a place of their own. Like many others who have fled their homeland because of the Russian invasion, they are dealing with trauma, upheaval and uncertainty, but they’re determined to make the best of life in our wee province.
Thankfully, we managed to secure the help of a Ukrainian woman who has been living and working here for several years, and she acted as interpreter for the morning, an invaluable help for all concerned. As we chatted over a cuppa after morning worship, our interpreter, whom we’d only met prior to the service, made the whole situation just that bit less strange, and a lot more meaningful.
We’re now in the season of Pentecost, that time within the Christian calendar in which the church remembers its founding by the coming of the Holy Spirit as Jesus had promised after Easter and then his ascension. Strange phenomena startle the believers who have gathered to wait upon God: a strong wind, and tongues of fire – but the main emphasis in the narrative is that the disciples, all of whom were ordinary Galileans, begin to speak in the numerous languages of the onlookers drawn to this weird event. No need for any human interpreter in this case – God’s Spirit is well capable of short-circuiting the normal process of translation, which, as anyone who does it knows, is less an exact science, and more of an artful approximation.
In the history of Christianity, the role of the Holy Spirit has been the least explored and expounded. The early creeds say relatively little, and compared to the massive concentration on Jesus Christ, the Spirit remains rather elusive in dogmatic or doctrinal terms.
And yet, what a rich panoply of aspects there are to celebrate and appreciate including one that’s as vital as any other. Josiah Royce suggests that the Spirit is “the Interpreter who interprets all to all” – the agency by which God enables truth, knowledge, meaning, and wisdom to be shared. Absent this, and the members of churches, no less than of wider society, talk past each other in the confused and confusing tongues of conflicting opinions.