Writing about what I have been reading and encountering in the media.
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OF PENTECOST, MAY 23,2021
It is a great honor to be invited to the pulpit on this day of all days. This is the celebration of the first harvest, the celebration of the birthday of Christianity, and the celebration of spiritual renewal. To me, this is the celebration of celebrations, the day of the great opening, the day we acknowledge what has always been and will always be true in all people in all places. There are many stories from many cultures that try to waken us or re-awaken us to the core truth of faith. Each of these stories is told from a cultural bias, and that cultural bias tends to limit understanding to that particular culture.
The story of Butterfly Maiden by Arvin Saufkie “Hopi”, (See photo below), which is known to me only through the Kachina, may be better understood inside the language of the Hopi people, an ancient people who continue to live and express their spirituality as the Hopi Nation in New Mexico. This Kachina came to me with no explanation so what I know of it is what is in front of me. It is a spiritual expression and I hope my faith opens my eyes to her spiritual wisdom.
Let’s review the events of the day we now call Pentecost. The apostles and their followers had gathered to celebrate the Festival of Weeks, a Jewish tradition established by Moses. In that climate, at that time, there was a minor harvest celebration called First Fruits around the time of the barley harvest. Then there were two major celebrations, the Festival of Weeks related to the wheat harvest and a fall harvest celebration. The wheat harvest always fell sometime during the middle of the month of May or sometimes in early June (rather like the first cutting of hay in the Ozarks.)
To determine the date of the Festival of Weeks, according to the Old Testament, you would go to the day of the celebration of First Fruits and begin with that day, you would count off 50 days. The fiftieth day would be the Festival of Weeks, the beginning of a three-day celebration of renewal. So, First Fruits is the beginning of the barley harvest, and The Festival of Weeks the celebration of the beginning of the wheat harvest which came to be known as Pentecost, literally the fiftieth day.
Peter and the other apostles and their followers had gathered in gratitude for another harvest as had been done since the beginning of agriculture. They were gathered in grief over the loss of Jesus, and in confusion over the news of the resurrection of Jesus and what that would mean, and what would they do next? Somehow, unexpectedly, something happened a great awakening. When they described it later, they used simile: it was like a rushing wind; it was like tongues of fire; it left us with the capacity to understand no matter what the language, no matter the cultural context, the gifts of the holy spirit. They remembered Jesus telling them he would send the Holy Spirit to them. As a consequence, they now had a cohesive set of basic ideas to share and the words came to them as new tools for sharing it. This is the day of Peter’s first sermon and the birthday of Christianity as a separate entity from Judaism.
Here, I would like to share an awakening I experienced, not on a holiday, not in the context of the church, but in a conversation with a child telling me about a difficult time in her life. She said, “The angels helped me. They are with me now. There is one right over there,” she said, pointing to the corner of the room. “Do you see it?” I told her I did not but that I believed her statement that the angel was there. She went on to tell me they were always with her and had been with her all her life. After that, she gave me gifts of angels so that I would be able to see them too.
That little child saw angels who came to help her. Angels came to Mary, pregnant at 14, to explain to her what she needed to know. There are many stories of angels arriving out of “the blue” with important information or resources. It didn’t come to the child because she had faith, or because she confessed her sins, or because she believed in Jesus. The angel came to her as an expression of goodness in a moment of need, as pure love that sustained her. It came with no conditions. It didn’t offer her help if only she would believe. It just came. I believe this is how it happened on the day the apostles gathered for the Festival of Weeks.
The mystery is how did it get there? Where did it come from? How is it that it seemed not to be there and then seemed to be there? Over the years, I talked to many survivors of trauma who had depended on spiritual resources to survive. It always seemed to me that this was not so much about physical survival as about staying connected to goodness.
Jesus did not let the rage of his critics distract him from the spirit within him. He trusted the spirit and walked with it through his own reluctance, the lashings, the humiliation, and the torture of his death. As he was doing this, he also pointed the spirit out to those around him. His followers somehow got the idea that he was telling them he was the way to find this goodness. I think there is truth in this perspective, but I have never believed the Holy Spirit was that small, that inept or that limited that it is only available to believers. Jesus was showing us that the spirit comes to us unbidden and requires nothing of us. It required nothing of the child who taught me about her angels. It required nothing of the men crucified with Jesus. He didn’t say “today thou shall be with me in Paradise if. It was an unconditional promise: It will happen.
On the day of Pentecost, the spirit was salient to everyone at one time. No one was excluded from the experience and there is no record that anyone doubted they had indeed experienced the presence of God. Perhaps this is always true when people gather who need or desire connection to the spirit. Scripture says it is true. Buddhists that I know talk about the strengthening effect of meditating together. They experience greater spiritual awareness when together. Indigenous people that have given me glimpses of their experiences seem to find increased spiritual awareness in their connection with each other.
Jesus, however, experienced it when alone. The child who saw angels experienced it when no one present was in any way supporting or helping her or seeking spiritual presence or awareness. There is no greater aloneness than being a child with no one to care for you at a time of need. The spirit is there at all times and in all places for us to gather into our awareness.
When you gather it, how does it happen that at some point you still die? Well, it seems to me that Pentecost is when we celebrate that dying is not something that separates us from the spirit. It separates us from loved ones. It separates us from the earth and its resources. It does not separate us from the holy spirit.
In my work listening to survivors, I was acutely aware that not everyone who suffers survives. We all know of someone who has died and those around them said “they are no longer suffering.” Death ends suffering. Death does not end the life of the spirit. Equally important is the fact that the spirit comes to us of its own volition. The fact of our existence is a fact of the presence of the spirit. There is no “if-then” about the Holy Spirit.
Some theologians and faithful Christians disagree with me about this. They tell me we must believe; we must obey, we must work at the business of experiencing the Holy Spirit and it can only come to us if we invite it. This is true of community. We can only be part of a community if we deliberately choose to participate. This is not true of the Holy Spirit. The spirit sustains our efforts to enter into wonder and beauty in our daily life. The spirit brightens, increases in energy when we join in its existence. The experience of finding spirit inside ourselves moves us to do good. It does not, however, require anything of us. It never leaves our life. It functions like nutrition to power our actions. It functions like rest, to separate us from distress. It functions like nurturing to strengthen our goodness and give us direction. The Holy Spirit sustains us through birth, life, and death and beyond, unconditionally. Within its power is the power to discern goodness, to give and receive forgiveness, and to retain goodness in the face of evil.
The language we use to express our fear of separation from the Holy Spirit includes the words death, evil, hell, and rejection. Faith is understanding that none of these experiences has power over the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not afraid of these things and cannot be controlled by them. The Holy Spirit is in charge at all times and in all places. Suffering comes when we lose sight of this fact. We can shed suffering like a snake sheds its skin by reaching out to the Holy Spirit with our eager or hungry or suffering spirit and walk through ignorance into bliss no matter who we are, no matter where we are, no matter what scripture we read or believe. When we do this, we are one with the spirit. Jesus showed us this. Pentecost is the awakening of this awareness. We celebrate Pentecost routinely on a certain day, but awakening is happening at all times in all places where spirits of living beings hold on to goodness.
This is a statement of my faith: Elizabeth Hykes