PENTECOSTS Are Happening All the Time

Pentecost, Year B.

We named our organization Project ACTS: We were an Ecumenical Organization of about fifteen Churches in Roslindale and Hyde Park, two Boston neighborhoods. It was 1981 and we’d been working to draw together the congregations in an inaugural convention. There was a Greek Orthodox Church, Two Large Roman Catholic congregations and a salad bowl of our Protestant denominations. At the Founding Convention came various bishops and heads of judicatories. Each congregation and religious organization put aside their differences in a common effort to make the communities more responsive to the needs of our youth, to affordable housing and to quality of life issues. Each church arrived with delegations of various sizes to St Nectarios Church, a young community of many Greek speakers. Almost as if we were returning to that initial Pentecost when all the boundaries and the confusions of languages and customs were removed, we stood together in the power of the love of God and the Spirit and a common purpose.

Our small Episcopal congregation rented space in the Lutheran Church, yet our “little old ladies” were a force with which to contend. Jean Dubois, our organizer, worked with issues of conflict between members that had been in the making for generations. She held us accountable to talk with the congregation and the neighbors. Out of the meetings grew a summer camp program for the children and a meeting with the neighbors about the drunken and noisy parties on weekend nights in the Lutheran Church parking lot. When the police conducted a “raid” on the parking lot, one of our own youth had been picked up by the police. That night I had to go to the police lock-up to get him out.

We had to think more broadly: What do our youth want, what are their needs, where are the programs and facilities in our communities to offer alternatives? Facilities and programs had fled to the wealthier neighborhoods and suburbs. The Municipal building that occupied a large corner of the neighborhood center had closed its gym, operated by the Boys Club and the Registry of Motor Vehicles was threatened for closure and to be moved to the nearby suburbs. Also a swimming pool had been closed after a youth drove a VW through the fence and into the swimming pool. The local city councilor, biased to the core, said that pool would never be restored. He insinuated that the poor people in that area of the town didn’t deserve it. Our little parish was doing Bible Study with the residents of low-income housing development in that neighborhood. We knew better.

The Pentecost moments were many. One of them was the day Governor Dukakis came to cut the ribbon for the re-opening of the Municipal Building. Our “little old ladies” were all arranged in the front row. Their hair all permed that morning, they smiled at the Governor who was flanked by two enormous and armed State Troopers. The State had invested considerable resources to renovate the old Registry of Motor Vehicles. The Boys Club had received grants to refurbish the old gym and track in the building with a new floor and locker rooms. And the Boys club agreed to add “and Girls” to the name. Also the Health Center had succeeded in getting a grant to refurbish the other third of the building. There was such joy in that room that day and a sense of accomplishment. All of our churches crowded the room and our small vagabond church helped to lead the way.

When I visited the registry the next day, I found I had become a local celebrity. They called me over to the window and gave me an honorary registration card. Not bad for a kid who was arrested for driving unregistered and uninsured ten years before.

The organization also had success in re-opening the community pool. The city gave 5.7 million dollars for its reconstruction. Oversight of the operation fell to an inter-racial community board which included many people from that lower income part of the neighborhood.

That initial work helped transform those neighborhoods and it became the model of a way of thinking about neighborhoods in the city that helped elect the next mayor, Tom Menino. Tom died in 2014, after serving well and kindly for twenty years.

“What Do You Really Believe?” Trinity

“Do you want to know what the Trinity is: God laughs and creates the Son. The Son laughs and creates the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit laughs and creates us.” Meister Eckhart.

The three Women, Trinity

The three Women, Trinity

Thomas Merton and more recently Cynthia Bourgeault describe the making of the Trinity as a flow of divine love. Both of them describe the Cappadocian “brothers”; Basil, Gregory of Nanzianzus  and Gregory of Nyssa, as the keys to the formulation of the idea of the Trinity as a divine flow of love and energy between the three “persons’ of the Trinity. They were not primarily trying to prove anything about the divinity of Christ, but rather the flow of energy between the three.

“Indeed the word hypostasis in Greek does not mean an individual at all but more a state of being… The Cappadocians were interested in how this movement or change of state, takes place. They saw it as an out pouring of love from Father to Son, From Son to Spirit and from Spirit back to Father. The Trinity in this sense is really an icon of overflowing and self-emptying love.  The three person go round and round like buckets on a watermill constantly overflowing into one another. As  they do the mill turns and the energy of love becomes manifest and accessible.“ (The Wisdom Jesus, Cynthia Bourgeault, pgs 71 and 72,)

Both authors describe this process of divine relationship as a dance. Merton writes about it in his “Seeds of Contemplation”, as the divine seeking to play in the dance with human beings, God reaching out God’s loving arms to take us into the sacred dance of life.

Seen in this way the Trinity is the flow of love and laughter between the three beings of the divine and describes our own relationship with the Holy.  The divine laughter that delights in the creative and imaginative relationship between all the three persons of the Trinity in turn becomes a design and template for our own spiritual life. The Trinity is an icon of the holy, of the divine dance of love exchanged between three manifestations of the Divinity. That is why one becomes “seduced” by life in the spirit. It is filled with laughter and delight. One begins to see with the eye of the heart as if for the first time. Everything becomes a doorway to the sacred, there is no door that is locked and bolted.

Still one of the great questions raised for my generation is that of Bonhoeffer who asked, “What do you really believe, believe enough to stake your life on it.” In the 70’s a group of us went to work to write our own creeds, they changed frequently, they were imaginative and inclusive, they envisioned the Holy as One and Compassion, as within and beyond. One creed penned by Richard York and John Pairman Brown stated, “ Bread means revolution and the bread is rising.” The author’s described a time when our youth were in a war and when our fathers had returned or not from two other wars. The time now was to raise questions about who we are and to emphasize counter-cultural words and lives of Jesus and the prophets. Sometimes the times do not change.

Back then we intoned the creeds. A chord was played in a descending and ascending order and the people would sing it in parts. Taize and African American and Latino rhythms were teaching us to chant and sing and dance in new ways. The Creeds are meant to be sung and danced and laughed. They are not meant to serve as a litmus test for what one believes, because the edges blur in song and poetry and in the dance. “I believe in One God, The Father Almighty maker of heaven and earth” can deaden the spirit when treated as a statement of rule and law and not an opportunity to enter into the mystery and the numinous and the unitive relationship of lover between the Father/Mother, Son and Holy Spirit.

And yet to the young and more literal mind, the Creeds are something to which to hold on for dear life in the swirling tides and eddy’s of the many spiritual voices that surround us. For all the creeds problems with history and with its abuses it is still a song to be sung as we stand together and recite the ancient words, the best formulation that the gathered church has yet imagined.

The Trinity in the Creed helps me focus and perpetually continues to remind me that here is a song to be sung and danced and laughed and not a pledge of allegiance. The allegiance comes when the heart is opened and comes with lightness and gentleness. When we lose sight of its wonder, I begin again to fret about my friends who don’t see things my way. Even the most beautiful of poem can become the instrument of evil.  Invictus, for instance was used as a clarion call for the bomber who killed many in Oklahoma City. We singers and laughers and dancers are called to be vigilant about the abuses of the words we say and pray and believe. After all is said, “I believe we are all One flow from and to the divine and back again. And I know I’m not always in that flow. ” And I’d defend anyone who didn’t see it that way. I crave the beauty of dissent much more than thoughtless conformity.






The Fire Bird and the Hawk: Pentecost

There had been a vision forty years before. During an Aurora Borealis on an Island in Maine, a dark form had appeared in the midst of a pulsing and vibrating vault of fire and gold. The darkness at the center took the shape of small bird. And then the bird expanded towards me, swooped at unfathomable speed and as I stood transfixed and rooted to the ground, the bird passed over,almost as if great wind had passed. Then it burst in a flash of golden light and fire, a fire that did not consume. I was relieved.

An Icon by Robert Lentz that depicts the Holy Spirit as a Falcon

An Icon by Robert Lentz that depicts the Holy Spirit as a Falcon

No one else saw this visitation at the time and I didn’t need anyone at the seminary questioning my sanity, so I never talked about the vision until maybe seven years ago in a parish I had already been the priest for ten years. I write about this in my blog dated 2013, The Baptism of Jesus. This bird was no dove. It was something more fierce than that, more passionate, more potentially destructive and with healing power in its wings. As it turned out, I saw the bird that visited me that night in an icon imagined by Robert Lentz.  It was a golden falcon, the symbol of the Holy Spirit for the Crow people.

It was now forty years later. I sat alone in the old 1835 rectory. My wife had left me for a woman who I brought into the parish. I was out of inspiration. I was both angry and relieved to dimly know what had happened to the marriage. Bob Dylan’s words, “You just kind of wasted my precious time” played on the radio. And yet the twenty plus years with her had been for most of them good years. She had been a good wife and mother to our three children. She had been the fierce lioness of protection and advocacy for our two children with special needs. But she was worn out and she discovered that she was in love with a woman.

I was worn out too, dead in the water. No inspiration came for the sermon I wanted to give on the Holy Spirit. I was dried up no words would come. Often towards the end of week, by a Friday or Saturday, if nothing was forthcoming, I’d simply pray; “Okay, I give up. What do you want me to say?” I probably should have been more intentional with that prayer at the beginning, but I still had a few lingering illusions that I could say it better than God.

I was almost at that point when a loud crash came from our enclosed back porch. The back window was shattered. A thousand pieces of white and blue and green glass was scatted over table, chairs and floor. I looked to see if someone had thrown a rock or an errant baseball. There was no one. In the far corner of the porch there was movement. A hawk cringed there in shock from its impact with the glass.  It didn’t move. He or she was about 18 inches, with a wing span of about three feet. The hawk stayed perfectly still, its breast feathers an orange brown and white. I saw no blood. I spoke in a tone that I thought the creature might understand. “You rest now and I’ll show you to the door. I’ll pick up the glass while you collect yourself.” I was confident the bird understood every word and intonation. I worried that the bird might come out of its trauma and try to fly around the small enclosed porch. Slowly I approached her, I think she was a female, and encouraged her toward the door. My gloved hand gently moved her toward the opening and the deck beyond. After five minutes of gentle prodding the hawk reached the door and flew a few feet to the back of a metal chair on the deck. There it waited to gauge whether it had the energy and ability to fly the twenty feet to the branch of a Norway maple in the yard. She spread her wings and lifted up toward the branch, reached  it with care and remained there for fifteen minutes. Then she flew away.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit comes with wind and fire, sometimes with a still small voice of calm. For me that day I needed the sound of breaking glass and a loud crash to focus my attention. That Sunday the sermon wrote itself. It was about the two birds breaking through into  consciousness with their various messages about the holy. The first was a message to risk everything for the love of God. The second was a reminder that, “Hey. I’m with you. Everything will work out and you still have to write the sermon.”

I think the bird was trying to tell me, “Get out of your rut and SOAR.”

And so far, it’s been working. It’s all gratitude now.    

An Icon by Robert Lentz. It depicts a golden dark falcon as the Holy Spirit.

An Icon by Robert Lentz. It depicts a golden dark falcon as the Holy Spirit.