I don’t read theology exhaustively, nor church history. I read “Web Exclusives,” from First Things every day though, does that count for something? I set my sights on the Catholic Church in my teens, but didn’t officially convert until I was married and pregnant with my fourth child. It was a happy time for all of us, joining the church that Easter Vigil. Since then, I alternately sigh with the contentment of being home, stand in grateful awe at the gift of such a church, and feel desperately lonely and little bit homesick for the churches I knew before.
I remember planning Pentecost on a worship team once. Definitely a jarring concept for my present circumstances. We didn’t do it all right. There are serious flaws in worship planning as we were executing it. But it meant a lot to me. Pouring over scriptures and hymn books, sharing the way the Gospel was moving in our own lives, aching out loud together for a way to draw the hearts of those present into an act of worship pleasing to God, for a way to bring home more clearly the reality of God’s mystery, majesty, and love.
I can accept that what we did then wasn’t good enough or fit to be replicated. But the sense of community and the presence of so much mutual striving towards God was both comforting and inspiring. I don’t remember what we did that year. I remember someone wanted to release red balloons from the balcony after the closing hymn, but it was controversial and I don’t know which way we went. We talked about birthday cake after the service and singing Happy Birthday to the church. We racked our brains for special music options that included brass. It was Pentecost. The day the Holy Spirit came down. That same Holy Spirit we still hoped and believed was moving today.
I knew it was Pentecost at our church this year because my prayer book told me so the night before and because the priest wore a red stole. The homily mentioned Pentecost and the Offertory hymn was a prayer to the Holy Spirit. If you were looking to know if there was an observance that day, the information was available, but we didn’t go in for fanfare and celebration.
Call me confused, but the Trinity, I asked my priest, how can the church say she believes in the Trinity, as in truly THREE equal persons, when there’s an Octave of Christmas, fifty days of Easter, most every Sunday for God the Father Almighty, and one day of passing reference to the Holy Spirit? My priest, very English Canadian, and a great lover of both the people and the Church, ignores the details of my math but say that Pentecost used to be an Octave. He wasn’t sure why it got changed exactly, but it really was a pity. Pentecost was worthy of an octave, he agreed. That the church was lacking in support for the notion of Trinity, seemed a stretch.
My husband worked Pentecost weekend, so I packed extra things for an after Mass outing. With clothes changed, we drove to a beach area on the river and into the St. Paul‘s annual picnic. A hundred Anglicans in red shirts were filling up their plates at a pot luck, and yes, there was birthday cake. They didn’t look like left leaning Anglicans, they looked like happy Christians.
“Why are they all wearing red?” asked my 13 year old.
“It’s Pentecost,” I said quietly. “They’re celebrating the birthday of the church.”
“Cool,” and off we trundled to the beach.
So what is a woman who loves her church but yearns for the fire of Pentecost to do? Buoyed by the notion that when praise is lacking, God is prepared to let the rocks cry out, I have decided to at least be a pebble on the sand of the ocean. At Christmas, God offers Himself in the form of a baby. Jesus, our brother, the King of time and eternity in flesh and blood. At Pentecost, God offers Himself in mystery. Unknowable, indefinable, uncontrollable, and omnipotent.
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came in fire. The wind of the Spirit blew life into the church. Into the hearts of believers the wind blew then and it blows now. At confirmation, we receive with the laying on of hands, the movement of that same Spirit, just as alive and powerful and full of mystery as He was 2000 years ago when those gathered saw tongues of fire.
The Holy Spirit is not visible to us. Sometimes the Spirit moves so mightily or so tenderly as to be felt, other times Spirit’s presence is a matter of faith. At Pentecost, we remember that. We awaken to the breath of the Spirit, and we awaken to hope. Which is good, because the Holy Spirit is the actual hope we were given to face a culture gone mad with destruction.
When we acknowledge the work of the Spirit, we give wings to our faith. We allow ourselves to be born up beyond our knowing on the holy winds of grace. We are a barren, lonely, and desperate people. On the whole, our churches, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant are not thriving. We send children forth into a world that despises us and the faith we cling to. And yet. The Holy Spirit remains. We are promised redemption, transformation, and new life.
I pray for the day the church offers a more clearly audible recognition of Pentecost, but the Spirit may be moving elsewhere first. Pentecost, I realize, can begin in your home and mine. And maybe it should. Maybe it belongs there, growing in the hearts of the people, the fruits of the Spirit’s joy one day spilling out off the tables and across the floors until the church has no choice but to fling wide the doors, sound the trumpets, and leap in holy celebration that our redemption long whispered in the night, is upon us.
Pentecost is getting the Octave treatment at our house this year. I don’t know how it will all work other than it probably won’t turn out how we’re planning it. Maybe that will serve to underscore the whole point anyway, about Someone good but as untameable as fire and as beyond our understanding as the Holy Spirit.
Seeming Chaos, Burning Love, Kind Gentleness, You Whom We Fear to Address but Long to Know, to our stumbling attempts at observance, come. To our hearts, dry, heavy and wanting, come.
Michelle Dawn Jones, 2014