Once upon a time I was very careless about acknowledging the source of the quotes that I copied into my journal or stored on my computer. I’ve improved, but these words about Pentecost stirred me then and still do, and I have no idea who wrote them.
The Spirit is fire and flame,
a restless wind, a babble of tongues, an upsetter.
It is forever choosing the prodigal son over the dutiful brother,
the Samaritan heretic over Jewish priests,
the widow’s mite over large donations,
a lost sheep over 99 safe ones,
a maid of Nazareth to be the mother of the Messiah,
a befuddled fisherman to become Peter,
an enemy of the church to become the apostle to the Gentiles.
Or as Andrew Hamilton SJ says, the Spirit is wild. (Eureka Street 20/2/2013)
Barely listened to homilies on top of childhood catechism class and Columban calendars had me believing that Pentecost was a one- off happening accompanied by severe wind gusts and dangerous looking licks of fire sitting perilously close to heads of hair. Prodded on by the necessity of teaching small children something about the Holy Spirit, I finally twigged that Luke, or whoever it was who wrote the Acts of the Apostles, had endeavoured to capture in words and images the excitement, the possibilities, the wonder that was Pentecost as it tumbled around inside him like a fire seeking an outlet, like a swirling wind ready to split open his whole life.
Paintings of the apostles gathered in a tidy circle, Mary in the middle, don’t capture that fired up feeling. Not that long back, in the years following Vatican 2, lots of quite ordinary people had felt all fired up – priests, pope and lay people, all in this church thing together. We were fired up, enthusiastically embracing new ministries, enjoying liturgies that touched the reality of our lives as well as our hearts.
Then the sins of a few brushed against us and all over the catholic world the fire seemed to go out. Today I find it difficult to capture that Pentecost feeling against a backdrop of pain, confusion, anger and outright indifference. More correctly I am challenged to recognise the voice and the actions of the Spirit of God amongst what is.
It’s hard to know. Do this voice come from the women and men labelled as zealots, crackpots, obsessive, driven, one-eyed, the kind of people who send slivers of discomfort and doubt into our cosy, materialistic lives. They live in the present but see the possibilities and drawbacks of what might be to come.
Some of these voices are religious – Christian and non-Christian – others without affiliation to any denomination. They may not be familiar with Jesus’ words, ”I have come to cast fire on the earth”, but there’s a God-fire that drives them to speak with a voice that just might be the Spirit of God, “who breathes where it wills.
Maybe cartoonists who draw it like it is, politicians who don’t stick to the party line, social activists who practice what they preach, environmentalists, women who don’t let cultural expectations get in their way, writers with a fire in their belly, and theologians who catch the eye of a watchful Vatican, are a twenty first century version of scriptural figures like Isaiah, Jerimiah or John the Baptiser.
That’s our Pentecost legacy and if I read the New Testament account correctly, it was a chaotic experience. If there is one thing that institutions like the church find difficult, it’s chaos. And there’s nothing orderly about scattering, is there?