This is a joyful celebration, because our Pentecost claim is that the active presence of God, whom we call the Holy Spirit is prodding us, because of unconditional love, toward the Divine plan for our lives and the world. This is something huge to embrace with awe and gratitude.
It is the presence of the Holy Spirit that allows us to proclaim, always in the present tense, that we can know Jesus and know God and experience the Divine in all of creation.
I suspect for most of us, it was hard, even unimaginable, not to celebrate Easter in our beloved churches. But now fifty days later, at least as far as Pentecost is concerned, this might be a blessing. Surely it is the Holy Spirit that leads us to church, but the history of the Church is clear that this same Holy Spirit leads us back out into the world to witness to the Kingdom of God. So, if you embraced Pentecost this year at home with family, taking a walk on the city streets or in a park, pondering the plight of so many people who are suffering economically, socially and medically by COVID-19, feeling sick about the continued racial violence that infects our country, thinking about our nation and its place in the global community, then you were right where we usually encounter the Holy Spirit, out and about in the world around us.
This year’s Pentecost season intersects with loosening restrictions regarding COVID-19 isolation and yet one more public murder in the cycle of what many refer to America’s Original Sin, a racism that continues to run deep in our collective soul. The brutal murder of George Floyd and the aftermath of more senseless violence is a sad acknowledgement that we are not ready to get back to business as usual, because business as usual needs a cleansing, a new resolve, and redemption.
This, of course, is the core business of the Holy Spirit, if only we will care enough, believe enough, be humble enough, and move beyond our self-obsession enough to listen to what the Spirit might be telling us in the midst of this pandemic.
Discerning the call of the Holy Spirit is tricky business. Many of us, particularly we clergy, have had more than one “certainty” in our ministries about where we are sure the Spirit is leading us. Often this involves validation of pet projects or our mega-ambitions. But the biblical narrative and the lives of the Saints usually indicate just the opposite, the Spirit leads us into uncharted territory that can be difficult, perhaps dangerous, and often exactly where we don’t want to go.
Since mid-March we have been in uncharted territory. And without minimizing the horrific suffering this pandemic has caused so many people, I believe we have also been given a Holy Spirit opportunity to reflect on what being a member of God’s one global family is all about. Who could have imagined just three months ago that we would all be engaged in a worldwide effort of mutual cooperation to curb COVID-19? We all realize that we’re in this together, regardless of religious or political views, and that resources need to be shared to solve the problems before us.
Might this crisis, happening during the seasons of Lent, Easter and Pentecost that encourage soul-searching and discernment, challenge us to think more deeply about what is actually most important for us, our communities, our human family, and our planet? In preparation for getting back to “normal” how might our faith communities embark on a bold agenda of confronting racism in America, calling all of us to own our history and a personal commitment to systemic change? Might this also bring a greater understanding and compassion for the human migration taking place around the globe because of natural disasters, wars, and the terror of gang-related violence?
A neighbor of mine, who is a nurse, said, “Maybe this is about our planet sending us all to our rooms and saying ‘enough’. We all need some healing.” It has been well documented that since the COVID-19 crisis began, the levels of air pollutants and warming gases have been significantly reduced. As we fight a virus that can infect us all, our planet is experiencing an uptick in its health! Will we religious leaders renew our commitment to the stewardship of creation, entrusted to us in the very first words of Scripture, and proclaim it, despite pushback or objection, as an urgent moral issue of our time? Our well-being and that of our planet can no longer be either/or, but must be understood as inextricably connected.
I believe the Spirit is alive in our time and place. My hope is that in this unchartered territory in which we now live, the Spirit is calling us to even greater, yet hopeful, unchartered territory as we figure out our collective pathway forward beyond COVID-19. Like the Israelites being led out of slavery, some kicking and screaming, to a new life yet to unfold, except for the promise that God would never leave them, we too in this moment might have an offer before us to a renewed life more reflective of God’s love and justice with only the promise that the Holy Spirit will be with us always.
As God’s one beloved family can we find inspiration and blessing from our determined commitment around COVID-19 to creatively and sacrificially embrace other issues of global health, racism and stunning inequality, manifesting Jesus’ teaching that the kingdom of God is within us? (Luke 17:21)
I would say that there exist a thousand unbreakable links between each of us and everything else, and that our dignity and our chances are one. The farthest star and the mud at our feel are a family; and there is no decency or sense in honoring one thing, or a few things, and then closing the list. The pine tree, the leopard, the Platte River, and ourselves – we are at risk together, or we are on our way to a sustainable world together. We are each other’s destiny. I could not be a poet without the natural world.…For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple.
– Upstream, Selected Essays by Mary Oliver