Today is Pentecost, a day when Christians celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit on the first members of the Church. We read in Acts 2:3 that the Spirit appeared “as tongues of fire.” It just so happens that I awoke this morning with a sore on my tongue, and it made me wonder, “what is God trying to tell me here?!” So I started thinking further about the tongue — an important muscular organ that I take for granted, especially as a public speaker.
The tongue is vital for chewing and swallowing the food that nourishes and sustains us. Sure, we could still manage to survive without the tongue, but think of all the enjoyable tastes that we would be missing. Today alone I experienced and enjoyed so many flavors, from my morning cup of coffee and chocolate donut at breakfast, to the raspberry smoothie I had for lunch. These wonderful flavors are an important part of the otherwise rather dull requirement that feeding my body might be. The flavors transform this necessary sustenance from an obligation to a rewarding experience.
When I was young and newly married, one of our neighbors developed mouth cancer. He had surgery which resulted in the loss of all sense of taste, but fortunately he could still eat. I was unaware that he had lost his sense of taste, so I baked him his favorite chocolate chip cookies and cheerfully delivered them to him and his wife. His response was not what I expected. He nearly cried when I presented the cookies to him, because he could smell them, but he could no longer enjoy the sumptuous flavors like he once did. I think God intervened that day. My dog ended up eating all the cookies when I left them on the coffee table to console my neighbor!
While we can still survive and nourish our bodies without the tongue, we would certainly not be able to talk. I sometimes experience the frustration of being unable to speak when I have a sore throat. Maintaining healthy relationships becomes much more challenging, because communication is a vital part of cultivating a relationship. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for the people who must endure this suffering permanently. Verbal communication is another gift that we take for granted, and it is dependent on the tongue. That’s why when we are having trouble expressing ourselves, we are said to be “tongue-tied.”
I can see now the great wisdom of the Holy Spirit choosing to appear as “tongues of fire.” What better symbol than the tongue to depict how the Spirit feeds and nourishes our spirits? As “tongues of fire” the Spirit also cultivates our relationship with God and others, by communicating that His great love is with us always. The Holy Spirit's tongues of fire remind us that life can be more than simply survival. We can live it abundantly and savor its bountiful flavors (from the sweet to the savory to the sour) . Even the most mundane obligations can become rewarding experiences, when we are willing to “taste and see” (Psalm 34:8).
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