based on Psalm 104 & Acts 2:1-18
“Suddenly they heard what sounded like a violent, rushing wind from the heaven; the noise filled the entire house in which they were sitting. Something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each one…”
Each Sunday, as we gather for worship we light the candle – a visual reminder of the presence of the Holy in our midst. We come together, this little and diverse community, because at some level we hope that our gathering will be transformative. We may not be able to say in what way we hope it transforms us, but still there is the hope, that something will happen that causes our spirits to quicken.
Cynthia Bourgeault writes of transformation using the image of a candle. “In its outer, sensible form a candle is an object consisting of (wax) and wick. But the real secret of the candle reveals itself only when the match is struck and the candle begins to burn. It gives of the materials of its outer form in order to release the heat and fragrance (and light) within. Only then do we see what a candle really is: its outer life is wax and wick, its inner life is flame.” P 55 the Wisdom Way of Knowing
Perhaps this is the meaning of Pentecost- this little group of misfits, this vagabond, leaderless group gathered, and opened their hearts through prayer to what Jesus had promised in his farewell address to them – the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit.
In that, they were transformed, like a candle that, only when lit, reveals its true inner nature. They were willing to let themselves be `used up’ for something greater than their individuality. Open to the fire of the Holy Spirit, they created communication and thus community. They spoke to the hearts of those who were in Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah – the 10 Commandments on Mount Sinai.
Peter, as a means of explaining to the bystanders, recalls the Hebrew scriptures that tell of a day when God’s Spirit will be poured out on all people, equipping them for a ministry as transformative as a candle flame lighting up the darkness. That day is now, says Peter. The disciples are energized and emboldened as the Spirit embraces each one. They lift up their voices in praise and thanksgiving.
In the midst of life then and now – a life fraught with so much loss and fear, brutality and blindness, prayer and praise seem so puny, so useless. And yet we create a certain kind of energy when we pray and when we praise, when we give thanks … it heals and enlivens. And there is something about doing that in community that truly strengthens and enlivens us to bring healing and loving energy into the world.
We often in our world, unconsciously release a different kind of energy. When we lock up our homes and become obsessed with our personal safety, we generate fear.
When we bulldoze farmland and forests to create strip-malls and extract oil, we generate greed.
When we praise a 60 work week we generate stress and sickness and devalue ourselves and our families.
When we praise God, alone or in community, something very different is generated. Cynthia Bourgeault, tells the story of a monastery in France in the early 1960s. A new abbot decreed that the monks would discontinue their age-old practice of Gregorian chant which had previously occupied the monks some five to six hours a day. The abbot believed the chanting served no useful purpose, and the monks would be freed up for more useful activities.
As the days passed, more and more of the monks became ill. A whole procession of doctors came in – making dietary suggestions, and sleep suggestions, but no improvement was noted. The abbot finally called in Dr. Alfred Tomatis, an ear, nose and throat specialist who found 70 of the 90 monks slumped in their cells, severely depressed and lethargic. He reintroduced the chanting immediately. Within a few months improvements were made, and by eight months, most of the monks had made a full recovery. The singing not only fed their souls, it fed their bodies! P. 57 The Wisdom Way of Knowing
On Friday afternoon, I was involved in a meeting which, thanks to the marvels of technology, brought together people in Vancouver, Victoria, Naramata and Salmon Arm and a few other places! We were fired up about something – the fate of Naramata Centre. But which way would the energy go? Would we spiral into negativity and blame and generate resentment and fear? Would we soften and open to the Spirit, listen deeply and offer our best selves. I am happy to report that we started in songs of praise and we offered our inner selves to the flame of the Holy Spirit, to see where that will lead. We were able to come up with some helpful and encouraging points to share at the AGM in June 27th.
When have you felt `on fire’ about something? What quenched the fire in you? What helped it burn brightly? (several congregational memebers offered examples) .
Peter understood his moment in history as the fulfillment of Joel’s prophesy. That transforming moment is still here, that Sprit is ready and willing to work with us. With prayer and praise, let us be open to where that leads us.