Soon Christians will celebrate Pentecost, which commemorates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. For many Christians this is one of the most important feasts. I would like to try to explain the meaning of this festival to my Jewish and Muslim friends and try to build a bridge to their beliefs.
Muslims have recently completed their fasting month of Ramadan. Many Muslims consider taqwa to be one of the fruits of fasting. Taqwa is explained as an awareness of God’s presence, as godliness, as a desire for God, and a desire to stop disobeying God. So a spiritual renewal. A bit of character building. A reorientation of desire, away from self and this world and more towards God and eternity with Him.
On the same day that Christians celebrate Pentecost, Jews celebrate Shavuot, remembering receiving the Torah. Shavuot takes place 49 days after Passover. During the time between Passover and Shavuot, religious Jews prepare to receive the Torah, the law of God. This period serves to develop the character so as to be ready to receive the Torah with full readiness – with joy and inwardness. For many Jews, the Torah is the most important signpost for living in communion with God.
Both taqwa and Torah must be given to us by the Almighty. We cannot awaken this taqwa or plant it in our hearts. Nor are we able to fulfil God’s Torah in full readiness. Although we are capable of a lot, and can teach ourselves certain skills, at some point we come to the realization: Man cannot improve himself essentially because in our deepest being we are rotten, deformed, addicted. So often we have to say: I want to, but I can’t. The taqwa and the Torah are perfect, but I am not. I can’t renew myself, I can’t turn myself into a person who desires God’s nearness 100% of the time and a person who loves nothing more than obeying the law of God.
Jeremiah, one of the Jewish prophets, announced centuries ago that God was going to do something special. God promised, “I will put my law within them and write it on their heart.”
The place where the Torah, the Word of God, should be, is in our hearts. The place where taqwa should be is in our heart. We cannot awaken this taqwa, or plant the Torah in our hearts. Only God can provide us with taqwa and only He can write the Torah in our hearts. Christians believe that this happens through the Spirit of God in those who have been reconciled to God because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Pentecost commemorates the outpouring of God’s Spirit into the hearts of men. This makes them new people, people in whose hearts God’s law is written, people in whose hearts taqwa begins to blossom. The Bible uses the term ’new birth’ for this. This is nothing short of a miracle of God! The Spirit of God causes people to be born again. Their minds are renewed, their desires are purified. This is not a one-time process, but its fruits are becoming more and more visible along the way. These fruits are described as: love, joy and peace, patience, kindness and goodness, faith, meekness and self-control.
Isn’t this actually the deepest desire of most Christians, Jews and Muslims, namely that taqwa and Torah be written in our hearts and bear fruit in our daily lives?
Let our prayer therefore be: “Almighty One, perform on me this miracle of God, that taqwa and Torah, my words and deeds, my desire and conduct more and more reflects Your character.
Pentecost teaches us that God wants to fulfil this desire. That is why Pentecost is such a beautiful feast for us, God gives His Spirit to the human being who lives in peace with Him, so that the renewal of our thinking and our being may already begin. A permanent reorientation of our desire.