Saturday, May 26, 2012

Come, Spirit of Pentecost

Happy Pentecost.
Today Christians celebrate the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. According to the record of the early church, the Acts of the Apostles:
1 Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like a violent wind blowing came from heaven and filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And tongues spreading out like a fire appeared to them and came to rest on each one of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven residing in Jerusalem. 6 When this sound occurred, a crowd gathered and was in confusion, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Completely baffled, they said, “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that each one of us hears them in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and the province of Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own languages about the great deeds God has done!” 12 All were astounded and greatly confused, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others jeered at the speakers, saying, “They are drunk on new wine!” (Acts 2:1-13)

I love this image of scared friends being suddenly so filled with inspiration that they erupt with goodness and truth for everyone. The visual image of a 'tongue of fire' gives me chills, even though it's the narrative equivalent of first generation CGI. Remember that most of the imagery related to the Holy Spirit is meant to represent knowledge, particularly hidden wisdom (fire, heavenly doves).

And I love this feast day. It is an essential part of the Church's story - this is where church leaders trace their ability and right to deliver truth. More importantly, Pentecost celebrates and affirms the idea that we are important enough to have our own tongues of fire! We get some truth - yay!

Avoid getting drunk on new wine.
The story of Pentecost is super affirmative, but it carries a backspin. Yes we get some truth, yes we get to talk about it to everyone, but it still comes from somewhere else. Pentecost reminds Christians - the Church - of their relationship with the Holy Spirit: The Spirit leads, Christians follow.

When you get over the initial shock, I don't think this is such a bad sentiment. Some sense of humble obedience can help us remove ourselves from the driver's seat and affirm that we do not really control our own destiny. We begin to accept the truth that we exist in a vast, mysterious universe. We recognize that our wisdom does come from outside ourselves, and we remember that we always learn from a stance of humility. Likewise, when we teach, we cannot wholly take credit.

Most importantly, Pentecost reminds us to stay vigilant, to follow the Spirit of Truth, recognize the reality of the universe outside ourselves, rather than assume that we ourselves are truth, or that reality bends for us.  We are bound to reality, reality is not bound to us.

Just a side note: Remember, Christians, the Holy Spirit does not endorse us. It us up to us to find the Spirit wherever the truth lies, and to endorse it. We are bound to the Spirit, not the Spirit to us. I think Benedict's beautiful prayer could have used more of this humility.

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