Pentecost and barriers to language: how the Holy Spirit communicates beyond words.

Rosie MacIntyre from Portsmouth Diocese offers us a unique perspective on Pentecost. She shows us how the Holy Spirit breaks down the barriers to communication among children and adults who use non-verbal language to share and engage with the Catholic faith.

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Pentecost is an underrated feast; when we read what happened at the Jewish feast of Shavuot we should be inspired! The Holy Spirit allowed people to understand all kinds of communication: the wall that was built at Babel was torn down! Hallelujah!

We read in Acts 2 that:
When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Being made fun of is something that the community with learning disabilities can understand: their communication needs are different and some people choose to laugh at differences. This doesn’t mean that any form of communication is invalid or less worthy of respect, and it definitely doesn’t mean it’s less inspired by the Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit has the power to break down walls and let us all communicate with each other!

What is communication? Communication is made up of lots of different ways that we can show how we feel and what we need. It can be very hard to know what someone means if they don’t show us in a way we can understand.

We are communicating by:

– Speaking or making sounds
– Using a form of sign language such as BSL or Makaton
– Using our face or hands to show how we feel
– Drawing, writing or using symbols
– Using Braille or allowing someone to lip-read
– Using our body by hugging or pushing or even jumping or running

We can also communicate by:

– Sharing pictures or music that show a feeling or story
– Making a place feel special by using lighting, smell or even taste

Everyone likes to communicate in different ways so when we are talking about our faith it is important to know how we like to communicate, and how others like to communicate so that the message is explained clearly.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

– How do you like to communicate?
– How do people around you like to communicate?
– Are there things that get in the way of learning?
– Can you think of any ways to get round these things?

Thinking about how we can communicate is a great start.

For Joseph a 5-year-old with ASC who seeks sensory stimulation, prayer and worship may look like 5 minutes silence in front of a crucifix or the pieta because he recognises the significance of those images. That silence that lasts all of a few minutes may take more than we know but is his way of recognising sacrifice and love. For some people it will look like jumping or making sounds that express their love for the Lord, for others it will be the fact they make it into a building full of people for 5 minutes. None of these are less worthy than others, and please believe me when I say that the Lord looks down with love on all those who try to communicate with him in the spirit of love.

The website Remarkably and Wonderfully Made was born out of ‘The God Who Speaks’ campaign. We were very excited to read that scripture was going to be made accessible to different groups with disabilities. We contacted Fleur Dorrell at the Bible Society to learn more and James, from our team, who is on the Autistic Spectrum gave input into some of the resources that have been created. The Holy Spirit kept nudging and nudging that we needed to do more, and when attending an online course for Catechists run by Sr Hyacinthe from the Dominican Sisters of St Joseph in Portsmouth Diocese, we became more convinced that this was the case: that is how Remarkably and Wonderfully Made was born. Our aim is to review resources and recommend ideas that may work for catechesis at home and within a parish classroom setting, so that everyone can decide what would work best for them in their scenario. We also create resources with help from Sr Hyacinthe and Sr Lucy.

We completely understand that everyone is different so we look for resources and ideas that parents and leaders can adapt to communicate the faith to those they are teaching.

We understand too that some families may not feel able to attend Mass for a variety of reasons and we hope to reach out to those families to let them know that they are loved and needed at Mass: we want them to know that they are not alone and that God sees them and loves them.

Why is the website called Remarkably and Wonderfully Made? This phrase comes from Psalm 139:14 which is a beautiful Psalm about how we are all uniquely created and loved by God. While there are people who think that if someone has additional needs they are somehow faulty: the truth is that everyone is a child of God with equal worth, and if we take the time to learn someone’s communication style we can learn more from people with additional needs than we can teach them about God. And that means our vision of Pentecost is richer as we see the wonders of the Holy Spirit working in ever new ways.

We welcome recommendations for resources to review.

Rosie MacIntyre is a mother of 3, married to a Uibhisteach and living in the Portsmouth Diocese. Her day job involves supporting access to vocational training. She is passionate about inclusivity and using training to help people reach their goals.
The Remarkably and Wonderfully Made Project is designed to signpost people to resources that can support those with additional needs as they access the Catholic faith.