Last December, I volunteered with a Community of Christ congregation in Orange, California for a community Christmas event. We partnered with a local nonprofit with wraparound services for families called the Friendly Center. I sat at the craft table and helped kids from the neighborhood make necklaces and ornaments out of beads and pipe cleaners. It was fun and a great way to meet and serve our neighbors.
Many of the families that visited our event were primarily Spanish speakers. Several grandmothers who brought their grandchildren to my table spoke little English, and thankfully, the children translated. I tried to remember Spanish words I had learned in school. I would point to a bead and say “verde” or “rojo,” but it felt like it was insufficient. I wanted so badly to be able to extend hospitality by speaking Spanish.
I’m reminded of this story as we approach the celebration of Pentecost in my own Christian tradition. The story from Acts tells of a rushing wind — the breaking in of the Holy Spirit. We read in Acts 2:4 that “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” The miracle of this story is about more than understanding between people who speak different languages. The deeper message is about the Spirit breaking through the barriers that we build.
This is such a rich metaphor for spiritual activism. The people were speaking in their native languages, but they could understand each other. So much of injustice in communities comes when we force others to fit neatly into boxes of what we find acceptable. This story gives us a counter message. Deep understanding came when people were speaking in their native language, existing exactly as they were. Spiritual activism is about making space for others to exist for exactly who they are. In Community of Christ, we call this the enduring principle of Unity in Diversity.
Later in the story, the crowd that gathers sneers at the ones who are speaking many languages, claiming that they are just drunk. Tearing down walls is countercultural, and it is easy for others to become cynical or suspicious. But the Spirit breaks through anyway. This is at the heart of spiritual activism. When all seems impossible and the world sneers at compassion, the Spirit breaks through anyway. Our role is to pay attention to that movement and participate!
What does this story of barrier-breaking look like for the St. George community? Where are the walls we have constructed that divide us? Barriers can extend beyond language to issues of income inequality, gender disparity, racial injustice, and LGBTQ+ exclusion. Our role as spiritual activists is to find the places where the Spirit is breaking through and creating understanding. We must continue to break down the walls that divide us and seek to create spaces for others to live in wholeness and community.