Sunday, June 08, 2014

Spirit Reflections (Pentecost)

I shared these thoughts last Tuesday on our weekly Lectionary Webinar. 
These are the readings that Sunshine Cathedral used today for Pentecost and these are my reflections on the texts:

Numbers 11.29 
Moses said, “…I wish that all of God’s people were prophets and that God’s spirit would be upon them!”

For “spirit” or the energy of life to be omnipresent, then it must be part of every life. The spirit that “Moses” (it is unlikely that Moses wrote Numbers, or any text, and some scholars doubt if Moses is even an historical person) wishes would be on people is the spirit (the activity, the motivation, the power) of prophecy (action, seeking change, challenging oppression, offering hope all in the name of God). It isn’t an invocation to coax the spirit of life to be present (it is, after all, omnipresent), but an affirmation that we are meant to make a positive difference in our world.

The Wisdom of Kahlil Gibran
“I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are children of one religion, and it is the spirit.”

Gibran’s universal religion (culturally he was Maronite Catholic but his spirituality was that of a mystic and a poet and mysticism and art are not the sole property of any one tradition) suggests that spirit is one and we are each part of that universal wholeness. It is monistic, panentheistic, and universalist in tone. Spirit is the substance of every life, the one true reality. Traditions are meant to give us vocabularies to explore the depths of spirit, but the one life that individuates as every life is in no way limited by any tradition or vocabulary.

The Wisdom of Thich Nhat Hahn
“The holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove, penetrated him deeply, and he revealed the manifestation of the holy Spirit. Jesus healed whatever he touched. With the holy Spirit in him, his power as a healer transformed many people…I [feel] that all of us also have the seed of the holy Spirit in us, the capacity of healing, transforming, and loving. When we touch that seed, we are able to touch God…”

Zen monk Thich Nhat Hahn echoes Gibran’s universalism as well as his idealistic monism. “All of us also have the seed of the holy Spirit in us…” The one life expressing through and as our lives.

Acts 2.1-4 (NIV)
1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in [new ways] as the Spirit enabled them.

The Pentecost narrative uses fire imagery (reminiscent of the Zoroastrian fire cult) as well as the Jewish Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) in imagining the early church being energized (spirit-filled) to be the resurrected and returned body of Christ (the parousia occurs as the church is raised up to be Christ in the world, though it is unlikely that it happened in a single instant as the story suggests…the church, like all movements, evolved over time). Wind, life-force, breath, energy, power…this is the imagery for the spirit and represents action, movement. The Pentecost narrative is a call to get busy, to be justice seekers, healers, and agents of positive change. Such change is also represented by learning to speak in new ways. The message of progressive spirituality is a new tongue for some. The message of Queer liberation and empowerment is a new tongue for some people. The message of feminist theology is a new tongue for some people. Inclusive language is a new tongue for some people. The blending of science, philosophy and religious pluralism into a unified spiritual system that welcomes truth wherever it may be found is a new approach, a shift in consciousness, a different way of exploring meaning.  Pentecost isn’t a magic moment in ancient history; it is the power to keep moving, keep exploring, keep finding new ways to embody the Sacred in the world. And we can…the wind filled the entire room, flames rested above every person. We all have the power to make a difference.

John 7.37-39 (NIV)
37On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive…

Just as fire and wind represented the power of divine life in Acts, so does water in the Johannine text. The power of life, rivers of living water, flow from within us when we believe in the Christ, the divine Ideal, the Inward Light, the Highest Self, the Sacred Nature that is at the core of every life. That divine Ideal or Christ principle is represented in John’s gospel by Jesus but, as indicated in the previous readings, it is a universal reality and is in no way limited to any religious tradition, vocabulary, text, or figure. 

--Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Senior Minister
Sunshine Cathedral

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