Pentecost is a celebration of the powerful outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit on all flesh, and this week thinking about this Spirit outpouring I felt a lot of sadness. I don’t think the early Christians gave us this story to make us feel sad. Quite the opposite. They told it to remind us what the Spirit makes possible. And what the Spirit makes possible, what the Spirit intends, is the creation of communion. The word communion comes from combining two latin words—“com” which means “with” and “unio” which means “oneness.” The Spirit is all about “with oneness.” The Spirit is the source of this “with oneness” and the Spirit is the one who is laboring to wake us up to reality of our lives as a deep and pervasive communion.
The Pentecost story itself doesn’t make me sad. People from all over the world who speak many different languages, suddenly hear the Spirit-burning-disciples, who heretofore have only spoken Aramaic, speaking in their native tongues. It isn’t clear whether the disciples have suddenly acquired the ability to speak all these languages, or whether they are speaking Aramaic which is being simultaneously translated by the Spirit into words these foreigners can understand. Either way, this communication across difference is a miracle, a stunning work of the Spirit. When Dewi came to live with us fourteen years ago, she tried with all her might to teach me Indonesian, and to date, I know one birthday song and part of one Christmas hymn. And believe me, when she speaks Indonesian, I haven’t a clue.
The Pentecost story, with its sudden breakthroughs of understanding across seemingly impassable barriers, doesn’t make me sad. The Spirit creates communion between absolute strangers who had not a snowball’s chance in hell of communicating. The story may be slightly exaggerated. It may show us an ideal picture of what the church and the world could look like if the Spirit had her way. In contrast, what makes me sad is how much misunderstanding, how much “not with-oness” is present in our country. People who speak the same language are deeply divided, hostile, disrespectful, unable to speak civilly, or listen patiently. There is a lot of violent speech that fuels violent action. And I’m sad about the “not communion” in the Reformed Church in America, the denomination, we are part of. Elder Rob Sweeney is at our General Synod to give witness to what the Spirit is doing here to create a communion inclusive of all persons, but there are painful divisions in the larger church. Words are spoken that wound people’s hearts and threaten to tear the Body of Christ apart. I am longing and praying for the Holy Spirit to do a Pentecost kind of thing with the people at Synod right now.
Pentecost is not the Spirit’s first rodeo, and she isn’t only laboring to bring communion between human beings. The Spirit has been creating communion from the very beginning of the universe’s unfolding. This is the witness we find in the book of Genesis. The point of this story is not to argue that God created the world in six days. In our tradition, we don’t dispute the idea of the big bang or the theory of evolution. The Genesis story is simply making the claim that the Spirit of God is the source of all life.
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the Spirit of God, the life breath of God, moves over the face of the chaotic waters. The Spirit is the source of life in everything that lives, and moves, and has being. Not just the life source in every person, but the life force in every animal, plant, tree, and microbe. Every blade of grass, every daffodil, every grain of wheat, every fish, bird, dog, sheep, kitten, you name it, if it is living, the Spirit is in it. The Spirit of God pervades and gives life to the universe.
I have to tell you, this is not something I ever heard growing up in my mid-western Reformed Church. This kind of talk worried us, it sounded pagan. Like we should worship trees and pray to animals. So I want to be clear. I’m not saying that the Spirit of God IS the grass, or a whale, or your pet dog. The Holy Spirit is the indwelling source of all life, immanent within creation, within our own bodies. And the Spirit is also distinct from, infinite, and transcending finite created life, and thus, able holds us in life even when we depart from our lives on this earth.
What this all means is that every living thing, every living being exists in deep communion with the Creator Spirit and with everything that lives. All that lives, lives from, participates in, shares in the life of God. Now I don’t know about you, but living this awareness changes the way I experience every person, and the way I look at trees and flowers, fish, flying ones, and four-legged ones. We are all kin to one another. We are living in, with, and through the Holy Spirit who is in us, around us, and beyond us. All that lives is sacred and in oneness. I sat on the front porch yesterday, noodling about Pentecost, and watching our hanging purple petunias dancing in the wind. Bending and turning. Delighting in their own beautiful petunia-ness and blessing me with their life.
The Holy Spirit is the source of our “with oneness” and the Spirit is the one who labors to wake us up to reality of our lives as a deep and pervasive communion. Which brings us back to the Pentecost story. The Spirit is already present in and around us and all that lives. Pentecost is an intensification of the Spirit’s life and presence. With incredible energy, the Spirit is waking people up to the communion that already exists in the world and she is deepening that communion. And the life energy that the Spirit pours out at Pentecost is filled with the life energy of this one person named Jesus who lived, and died, and rose from death because he was as intensely alive to the Holy Spirit as any person could possibly be. He didn’t resist the life of the Holy Spirit that was in him. Jesus let the Spirit move him and thoroughly shape his life. Jesus isn’t super-human. His life shows us what it means to be fully, properly human. To be fully, properly human is to live in awareness of the deep, pervasive, sacred communion we are a part of, and to do all that we can to deepen our “with oneness” with God and with everything that lives and moves and has being in God’s good creation.
The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus in us isn’t just the life breath in us. It is the love in us. It is the capacity to delight in our own bodies, ourselves, and the capacity to delight in the life of purple petunias and puppy dogs and other people. It is the capacity to cherish and give ourselves to the flourishing of all life. The purple petunias on my porch cannot resist the movement of the wind. They dance in the whirl, flutter and bend. They cannot do otherwise.
We are not petunias. We can resist the winds of the Spirit. We can quench the burning love of the Spirit. We can live unaware of our deep kinship and communion, and our shared existence in this single life source. I do wish that the Holy Spirit would sweep us off our feet and take us up in her beautiful life dance and create understanding and overcome the divisions. Sometimes she works like that. But mostly, she patiently indwells us and supports us in doing the work that it is ours to do. The Spirit lives to awaken us to our “with oneness.”
And for me that means, slowing down, being still, paying attention, letting go of my anxious pre-occupations long enough to become present to the Spirit life in me and in all that lives. For the week ahead I’m going to give you some homework. For part at least part of one day, slow yourself down. Take time to breath. Regard the person you are with, whoever that may be, in awareness of your deep, sacred communion with them. Bury your nose in a flower. Hug a tree. Feel the grass between your toes. Let a dog lick your face. Take it all in with reverence and thanksgiving. This is Holy Spirit life. This is Holy Spirit love. This is what you are made for.