It takes me by surprise when I am buying back to school supplies that we are still in the liturgical season of Pentecost, and will be for even longer, beyond purchasing the discounted Halloween Candy, all the way to the tip of Black Friday. Pentecost is my internal signal of summer starting—that first parish picnic (or not this year), the end of the program year for school and church, and always the well-intentioned humblebrags of clergy and parishes and their multi-language services that day.
That feast in May or June tells us of the disciples gathered together, and the Holy Spirit descending upon them with flames upon their heads, each speaking a different language, and yet each able to understand one another. We celebrate our differences that day, the gifts of language, of listening to the familiar words of our liturgy through a new lens, with new ears. We have energy that day to delight in our difference.
But Pentecost is long. Like, looooong. Green for at least half a liturgical year felt-board long.
And now, about to enter the fall season, we are in the depths of Pentecost. And it’s hard to maintain that energy from that first day—where we typically have flames, doves, wonder, awe and church birthday cake marking the occasion. Around this time every year, we forget about those red streamers and balloons. We forget about the languages. We forget, because it’s been a long, long season.
Our family has been in the deep days of Pentecost for a while. Our four-and-a-half-year-old son has deep delays in speech. He is, what is known as, a multi-modal speaker—he uses sign language, pointing, approximating words and sounds, with the addition of a tablet for his communication. As a younger child, you would hardly notice—but now that he is entering a final year of preschool, he is obviously different from his peers.
We usually understand him at home, in that special language families share with one another—and he assumes that we understand him. Oftentimes the burden of his Augmentative/ Alternative Communication device draped over his shoulder like a purse at school is a lot for a little guy, and off it comes when he gets into the door of his house.
But sometimes we don’t understand him. He looks at us, and tells us what he wants or needs, and we stare back at him with no idea what he is asking for. There is no word on the tablet for his need, or no way to point to what he wants. Sometimes in that moment, I supplant what I *think* he wants, or start speaking to him like a cliché of a tourist on another country—VERY LOUDLY AND IN CLEAR ENGLISH.
When that doesn’t work (and, kind reader, it doesn’t work often), he melts down. Into a small puddle of sad, and mad, and frustrated and exhausted, because he is tired of working so, so hard to get his needs met, his ideas across. He doesn’t understand why we don’t understand him, because in his mind, he is speaking so very clearly to us.
And I too, as his parent, and with my husband, often melt down as well. Because we want to understand. And to understand someone who speaks a different language from our own, or from a different experience, takes so much longer than we are used to. The energy of those first forays into sign language or adaptive communication options wears thin after a while, for both our son and us.
And yet, when I pick up the colored pencils and glue sticks for school, and look at our church bulletin which proudly proclaims that we are still in a season of the Spirit, of growth, and of discovery—I am strangely comforted. We yearn for the SMART-goal nature of shorter liturgical seasons—Advent, Epiphany, Lent—they are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based in nature. But life isn’t like that. Loving one another isn’t like that. Something about Pentecost going on forever and a day reminds me that growth in skill or love or listening to another way of speaking takes a very, very long time.
As I write this in the unfolding pandemic, where there are no best practices or end time in sight, and in the midst of deep and necessary conversations with People of Color who are so, so tired of not having their lives valued and living where their words and experiences are neither listened to, nor heard, and rarely comprehended—perhaps this season with no end in sight until the snow is here, can be of service to us, and to our souls.