A slew of holidays in Holland happen in Spring that most people have little connection to, but they enjoy the day off anyway. The last of these Spring holidays is called Pinksteren (eerste en tweede pinksterdag). That’s Pentecost, or Whit Sunday for the white clothes those who would be baptised during the celebrations would wear in medieval times. It’s seven weeks after Easter, ten days after Ascension, fifty days after everything changed: Pentecost is when we are told the Spirit of God came to reside in us.
Many parts of Christianity simply fall under good ol’ moral teaching: love your neighbor, don’t murder, respect others, etc. There is a practical side to most religions that is pretty easy to get behind. The gathering of people for the greater good makes human sense; the Golden Rule applies no matter what you believe. But there are some aspects of Christianity (and most other faiths) that can easily fall into a “magical thinking” or mystical realm. Prayer, the resurrection, God on Earth in the human Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are all much harder to wrap our minds around. Sometimes I even call it Holy Spirit Magic. It’s a recognition that I do not always understand. Yet there is a profound implication to what it means that we claim God lives in us. The story of Pentecost reveals the upside down way in which God interacts with us- a way which subverts all our understanding of power structures and gives us a direction forward into this new world where resurrection exists and redemption is possible. Even if you don’t believe the stories, they point to how we are called to live together.
The story of Pentecost reveals the upside down way in which God interacts with us- a way which subverts all our understanding of power structures and gives us a direction forward into this new world where resurrection exists and redemption is possible.
Christianity is built on a much older religion- Judaism. The stories are all embedded in ancient Hebrew consciences. It takes place during another holiday- not yet called Pentecost, but rather Shavuot: when God gave the Torah to Moses. This was the holiest of books in a Hebrew context - given seven weeks after the Passover where the Jewish people were delivered from bondage. So, seven weeks after liberation the words of God were given to the people. The story is echoed in the first century: seven weeks after Jesus was liberated from death (Easter) the word of God comes into the people. The people start to speak about God in every language present- and those around them understood in their mother tongue/heart language. Jesus’s followers were gathered and waiting for this -it was not thrust on them, they were waiting, wanting, anticipating what would happen next, although they did not know exactly what would happen. The story says it came indiscriminately: men and women were there, young and old, and all were filled with the Spirit of God, which came down like wind, like fire, what we call the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’s followers were gathered and waiting for this -it was not thrust on them, they were waiting, wanting, anticipating what would happen next, although they did not know exactly what would happen.
What did that look like? It looked like inclusion: those that had been waiting started speaking about the great love of God in the languages of different nationalities. The first thing Peter did was quote from the prophet Joel that this love, this way of living, was not for a select few, but for all who want it. The effect was awe, harmony, holding each other up, sharing joy and meals together. Many joined them, because it was good.
What does this have to do with us? It means God can work through you. This is super personal. For me, it means listening and being open and present in everyday interactions. Listening for God, looking for opportunities to love. Opening my eyes to how I can be part of redemption life here and now. The Holy Spirit clues me into when and where. Sometimes that is in a church, sometimes that is in the choices we make as a family, sometimes that is with a stranger, often that is just in work or daily life. It has taken me across oceans, and across the street.
What does that look like? Well, it won’t be thrust on you unwillingly. There were those that refused, and those who looked on and just thought Jesus’s followers were drunk. God listens to our consent. In my life this means actual peace, sometimes in the darkest places. It means opportunities to love, and the ability to see glimpses of God in and through others. Sometimes it is the gentlest of whispers found in solitude or through writing, and sometimes this is in the resonance voice found when communing with others, and often this is someone else reflecting God in their words and love to me. Most profoundly, this has been in my ability to forgive others and continue in life with them, sometimes with firmer boundaries than I am able to enforce with my own will. Especially forgiving myself, which I find the most difficult.
God's Spirit is open to everyone. All races, all ages, all genders, experience God’s Spirit in them. There is no hierarchy here. Although many at the Pentecost we remember were Jewish, it soon moved far beyond that to anyone who wanted God. God welcomes all, and so should we - in their own language! We must let go of our cultural assumptions tied up in our beliefs to get to the main thing that transcends languages and culture: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The greatest of these is love. This is what God is about, this is the universal language that the Holy Spirit grows within us. In ancient tradition, the Holy Spirit is often referred to in the feminine, a part of the Divine femininity of God. We are her hands and feet, co-creators with God for the redemption of the whole earth. That means it all matters- what we do matters eternally, and we have the opportunity to respond with the Holy Spirit inside of us. Pentecost is an invitation for humans to enter into the Divine Dance with God- not just for ourselves, but for all people. The result should be for the practical good of everyone involved: harmony, awe, and sharing life together.
God welcomes all, and so should we... We must let go of our cultural assumptions tied up in our beliefs to get to the main thing that transcends languages and culture
What does Pentecost have to do with you? Everything if you want it- if you want to see the Divine in you, reaching out to engage in the Good Work, with holy hands to love your neighbor and the world around you. It’s the story of a cosmic shift from God above to God inside. We are part of the story of redemption with our lives. We can choose to see the image of God in ourselves and all others, to listen and respond.
The second part of Benjamin's twin poems.