It’s been a few weeks since Pentecost, but I felt this site needs some more poems about the Holy Spirit. One a year is not enough. Having now learned a little Ancient Greek, I took inspiration from some observations I had while reading Acts 2:1–4.
The first clue is in the name: the Greek word pentēcostē means ‘fiftieth’. In the Jewish calendar, the fiftieth day following Passover was called the Feast of Weeks (see Leviticus 23:15) and, like Passover, was a major pilgrimage festival in Judaism.
This is why, as recorded in the book of Acts, there were so many Jews in Jerusalem on the day that Christians would call the first Pentecost. Also, just as the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) is 50 days following Passover, so also Pentecost is 50 days following Easter.
Reading the opening of Acts in Greek, I also noticed the feeling of time — that this was the appointed time. In Greek there is a word for time in general, chronos (from which we get chronology and chronic) and another for appointed or designated times, kairos. In Acts 1:7–8, Jesus tells the disciples that they aren’t to know the time or the appointed times the Father has set, but that it won’t be long before they receive power from the Holy Spirit and will be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. In many ways, this is the core of the entire book.
Another thing I noticed from the Greek is that although ‘tongues like fire’ appeared to the disciples and divided amongst them, when the text says that these rested on the disciples, the verb is singular. One fire rested on them.
I also liked that the tongues like fire rested on the disciples. It’s the same verb from verse two: the disciples were sitting in the house and the fire sat on each of the disciples.
This poem also has a few other hints to the Greek. The word pneuma means ‘spirit’ and is the origin of English words to do with air like ‘peumatic’ and ‘pneumonia’. Also, the word glōssa means ‘tongue’ and is the origin of the English word ‘glossolalia’ which, if you didn’t know, is the technical word for speaking in tongues.
So with all that in mind, here’s the poem.
The original images are on Unsplash in an album I’ve curated here.
The fire of day 50
It was time.
Fifty days since the rise of the Son.
Seven time seven, plus one.
A wild sweeping of pneumatic might,
A swelling river of air in flight.
Flame poured down.
Streams furcating upon each one,
Parting to impart a burning tongue.
The Spirit spoke.
Words in mother-speech of every kind,
Glossaries of heaven for every mind.
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