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Mending Bridges on Pentecost

A number of years ago I was a facilitator in a program called ‘Building Bridges’, which brought together Jewish, Muslim and Christian high school students, and invited them into conversation with each other. We talked about food, festivities and sacred stories, seeing how they wove together in places, and diverted into different directions. To the table we brought our margherita pizza and our curiosity, coming towards each other not with defensiveness but with a desire to meet the Other.


I learnt recently that the Building Bridges program has ended. At least for now. “[I]n the current climate the polarisation of opinions raises challenges for us,” said the Wellspring Centre, who ran the program. In the fraught social environment of Melbourne, brought on edge by deeply connected events on the other side of the world, they simply could not offer a safe-enough space for young people to be together and meet each other across their difference.


I can understand the decision, but it makes me sad, and worried. Is not now the time when the peace-seekers amongst us need to be actively moving towards each other, straining more than ever to hear what the Other is saying? It is hard to hear, when you are in pain, and the rage in your heart travels to your head and your ears and drowns out all other sounds. But when the world is awash with pain and rage, the task of listening and hearing is more urgent than ever before.


This coming Sunday is Pentecost, where we remember the Holy Spirit coming amongst the followers of Jesus. A few of us met at Vanilla Lounge in Oakleigh – a little pocket of Greece in the south eastern suburbs of Melbourne – to discuss the Bible readings set by the wider church. We read the story about the Jewish festival of Pentecost, where Jesus’s disciples are gathered together in one place in Jerusalem, along with devout Jews from all over the known world. People spoke every language under the sun, it seemed. And into this place marked both by togetherness and immense diversity, the Holy Spirit arrives and they begin to hear and understand each other.  


I’m not sure what “Holy Spirit” means to you and how you experience it. For some people it’s a sense of elation or a rush of emotion; for others it’s a bodily sensation that causes them to dance or move; for others it causes them to open their mouth and make different sounds. For me, it’s a kind of tingling within and a rush of creativity, as I follow the flight of the Spirit and ride its currents, which create beauty and new connections. It’s a bit hard to explain.


But for these first disciples, who are huddled together in empty wonder, having just witnessed their master disappear from their midst, the Holy Spirit is what enables them to hear and understand each other.


And so I’m wondering: maybe what the world needs right now is the Holy Spirit, which enables us to listen, hear and understand. And I also wonder: what postures do we need to take – how do we position our bodies and our ears and our hearts – to enable that Spirit to reside in our midst, doing the work of connecting, of bringing together?


Words by Rev Andreana

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