Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Our Pentecost Fire by Rev. Dr. Barbara Billey, Priest ARCWP Heart of Compassion Faith Community, Windsor, Ontario, Canada (01 June 2020)


 “The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.”
― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets
T.S. Eliot wrote this poem after he converted to Christianity. For him, the Holy Spirit is the central fire that redeems humankind from the fires of hell. I'm not a proponent of the dualistic theology of heaven and hell; however, how do we make sense of a senseless hell that has taken place during the past week in the US where a black man, George Floyd is suffocated to death by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota? There's no solace in the irony that police officer, Derek Chauvin uses his knee to commit this atrocity; a praying position this is not.
Yesterday was Pentecost, a feast day for Christians around the world that is rooted in the tradition of the Israelites. Shavuot in Hebrew, Pentecost is a celebration of the gifts God gave his people in the Torah on Mount Sinai, which occurs fifty days after Passover, the day that marks their liberation from enslavement in Egypt by Pharaoh.
In Christian tradition, Pentecost occurs fifty days after Easter when we celebrate Jesus' resurrection from the dead. In Acts of the Apostles (2:1-11), a roaring wind fills the room where Jesus' companions are gathered. Tongues of fire descend upon their heads and each person is filled with the Holy Spirit, as well as the ability to speak and understand diverse languages. This is fluid fire that unleashes like a wild goose honking. Imagine sitting around a table for a meal with people from many nations. What a gift of radical hospitality given by Sophia Spirit!
In John's account of Pentecost (20:19-23), Jesus' companions are huddled in a room for fear of persecution by Jewish and Roman authorities. Jesus appears - fixed fire, a dove, an energy that harnesses their fears into calm. He says, "Peace be with you. As Creator God has sent me, so I send you" (v. 21). He gives them the gift of Spirit Sophia, to guide and to give them courage that they may continue His way of spreading the Good News: compassionately healing, teaching and justice-making.
In the Gospel of Mary, after Jesus appears to His companions, they weep greatly and cried out, "How shall we go the nations and proclaim the good news of the Child of Humanity? If they did not spare him, how will they spare us!" (5:2-3). Mary Magdalene gives the same reassurances as Jesus does: "Do not weep and be pained or doubt, for all His grace will be with you and shelter you" (5:5-6).
Are we not bombarded by fire right now? The murder of George Floyd is another suffocating assault during our Covid-19 pandemic that is incited by racism and violence. Many are in a hot mess of trauma and confusion that is accompanied by anger, grief and sadness. What can we do? How are we to be?
My mother was a wonderful listener and she also spoke, sometimes unsolicited, sound advice. Our conventional wisdom in times such as this is to lash out, to get revenge and to judge. To loot, burn and destroy. What is the Jesus way of justice? When I came to my mother with a concern or problem, she would often say, "When I don't know what to do I always pray to the Holy Spirit."
And T.S. Eliot, what does he say? "We only live, only suspire, consumed by either fire or fire.”

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