Last week DC celebrated Pride week. Rainbow flags waved throughout the city. On Saturday I attended the Pride parade. ‘Happy Pride day’ was cheered from cars and strangers as we walked on the street. The very next day was Pentecost, one of my favorite holy days. With the rainbow flags hung throughout the streets, I walked into the church and saw the red, orange, and yellow streamers of Pentecost, I was suddenly struck with a new revelation, in my long deepening and shifting understanding of the Holy Spirit. I suddenly saw all the colors of the rainbow in a new way.
My fascination with the Holy Spirit and Pentecost may have started with a devotional I created 10 years ago, the summer I cooked for Sierra Service Project. I recall following one of my classic mind word trails to a verse from 1 Kings 19:11-13
He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake , but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
I was stunned by the idea of God not coming in all the forceful and nearly violent movements, but in the silence.
Now you’re asking how this relates to Pentecost. Pentecost is the day the church recognizes as the birth of the church. It is the day the Holy Spirit visited the disciples and touched each with tongues of fire, giving them the gift of language to go out, teach and be understood by all people. Before this moment they had huddled together in an upper room, not knowing what to do after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The story of Elijah and the disciples encounter with the Holy Spirit, combined with my fascination of the mystics of all religions, started me on a life long study of the Holy Spirit. I didn’t realize it would be a life long study. Yet, here I find myself ten years later and still fascinated with how the Holy Spirit manifests in the simple and the profound, in the silence and in the languages of the world.
For many years, I had felt pulled between two different yearnings in my spirit. The desire to find quiet contemplation, to dive into myself and God and my desire to be active in the world. For most of my young life I never thought the two could be fulfilled simultaneously. I always pictured myself being pulled apart by these opposing forces of spirit.
Then, about 5 years ago, during a drive up the California coast it suddenly occurred to me both these manifestations were coming from the same source of the Holy Spirit, so both were necessary in my life. Both radiated from the same center. From then on I began looking for all the ways the Holy Spirit manifested in both ways, in stories and people.
With the blessing of First United Methodist Church, Santa Rosa CA, my home for four years, I created this fabric panel which hung in the sanctuary for Pentecost.
Pentecost focuses on the Spirit’s fire, so when I searched for the opposition of fire I discovered it in the story before Pentecost. If we always start a story at the most dramatic point, we miss the subtle movements occurring and building up to the ‘miracle.’ The disciples could not have been prepared for the ministry to the world had they not been baptized first by Jesus’ love, by the Holy Spirit in cleansing water, washing away preconceptions. and preparing them for the fire of God. The Holy Spirit was calling them out into the world from their upper room, like Elijah being called from his cave.
Last summer, I was preparing my application to attend Father Richard Rohr’s Living School of Action and Contemplation. The school blends learning about the mystical traditions, the Franciscan way and action. While I was preparing the application I realized I was still separating the Holy Spirit into waters that cleanse and fires that ignite. (By the way, this is a thrilling and liberating moment, as if suddenly realizing how to ride your bike with no handlebars, no judgement, just pure joy.)
Growing up in California I should have seen this coming. Fire can also be an incredibly cleansing force, and frequently healing comes in finally acting, as in when you finally say how you feel, or tell your story. Similarly, the cooling wash of love, can actually ignite so much energy. I discovered the fire and water of God could be working simultaneously and in partnership, both healing, both igniting.
This realization also ironically clarified my study and work with religiously motivated nonviolence. Nonviolence is the ultimate healing action, out of love we speak, we act, we work to bring revelation and justice. Nonviolent actors, have sought to heal themselves by standing up to injustice, and sought to heal the very people who impose, or act in unjust ways, in order to liberate all the people. The way they act is meant to heal the other and themselves.
On Sunday, as I looked at the streamers of Pentecost and recalled the rainbow flags hanging from our church doors, I asked, ‘what happens to pure light as it passes through water?’ A rainbow is created. A rainbow is created as the fire of the sun passes through the tears of heaven. During the Pride parade I saw so much jubilance, both outlandish and demure. With this jubilance a deep river of pain flowed in the many many suicide prevention and community organizations seeking to heal wounds, to be the light and walk through the dark with so many. In that moment, the tears of so many were ignited by the light, creating rainbows of pride. (Here is a great article on how the rainbow became the symbol of the LGBT community.)
A poem title, “God is Gay” was read at the Interfaith Pride service. On of many favorite lines is,
God gave us the rainbow
As a promise that we will never be flooded again
Either with rain or ignorance
While we still have ignorance in the world, the rainbow reveals for a moment the intersection of light and water helping us see all the beautiful ways our world, our languages, our identities, and our sexualities are manifest.