The Language Of The Heart
The ancient Jewish feast of Pentecost was, among other things, a celebration of the law. The people of Israel considered the law as a gift, even though observing its commandments, as we can imagine, was never easy. Hence God’s desire to have this law written not on stones but on hearts: “I will write it on their hearts” (Jr 31.33). With the coming of God’s own Spirit into our hearts this promise was fulfilled: we no longer rely on external commandments to play our role in the Father's plan of salvation but can now follow his will spontaneously because the Spirit leads us from within. We are enabled to desire what God wants not through obligation but out of trust, not like servants but like children: we trust the Father even when we are aware that we will never ever match his love for us. The Father’s unconditional love for us gently evokes in us our own desire to grow in faithfulness and makes us unafraid of our weaknesses, failures and even of our sins. This is a love that can overcome all obstacles not only in our relation with the Father but also with each other. It introduces a novelty in our relationships which is signified symbolically by one of the signs that accompanies the coming of the Spirit, namely the gift of tongues.
Real communication does not depend on the ability to speak many languages. The greatest misunderstandings occur among those who share the same language. Speaking languages becomes a sign of the presence of the Spirit because it means that we become able to communicate with others from within. When missionaries go to new populations, they do not just learn their languages so that they can preach the gospel to them. They start by sharing their lives, eating their food, adopting their habits - because this is how we really speak the language of others: not just by expressing ourselves in their words, but by understanding their sensitivities, perceiving their values, becoming part of their families.
Having the gift of tongues is thus a matter of empathy, that is of feeling what others feel. Ultimately, it is an expression of love – and love is precisely the gift that the Holy Spirit gives us or rather what the Holy Spirit is. In the life of God, the Holy Spirit is the bond between the Father and the Son, unites them, ‘makes them one’. Hence, the Spirit also makes us one with God and between ourselves.
This is how the Holy Spirit replaces external laws. The new 'law', that is the love that the Spirit gives us, is interior: "The love of God has been poured into your hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to you" (Rom 5: 5). The new way of being in relation with God and with one another appeals not to rules of external behavior, but to the empathy, generosity, kindness, openness which come from the heart.
Receiving the gift of tongues, therefore, means that I am enabled to speak the language of the heart. Paul affirms: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13.1). No specialist skills or knowledge can achieve anything unless they are driven by the love Paul describes as follows: “Love is patient, kind, not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Cor 13.4-7). Speaking in tongues therefore means that we are granted the freedom of a love that overcomes all obstacles in human relations by its gentleness, responsiveness and a unique kind of emotional intelligence – we can love each other in the very same way that the Father loves us.