Reflections on surprise, disruption and the Holy Spirit: themes from Pentecost and Acts 2

It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. — Frederick Douglass

And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. — Khalil Gibran

Pentecost Blessing — Jan Richardson

On the day when you are wearing
your certainty like a cloak
and your sureness goes before you
like a shield or like a sword,

may the sound of God’s name
spill from your lips as you have never heard it before.

May your knowing be undone.
May mystery confound your understanding.

May the Divine rain down in strange syllables
yet with an ancient familiarity,
a knowing borne in the blood,
the ear, the tongue,
bringing the clarity that comes
not in stone or in steel
but in fire, in flame.

May there come one searing word:
enough to bare you to the bone,
enough to set your heart ablaze,
enough to make you whole again.


Questions to consider about Acts 2: 1-21:

  • What gifts do you believe you have received from the Spirit?
  • When have you felt connected to something larger than yourself?
  • When have you had a sense that you’ve lost control and your expectations have been overturned? What happened next? Did that experience make a lasting change in you?
  • When have you felt like a ‘stranger in a strange land?’ What helped you reconnect?

Music about fire, wind, breath and Spirit:

Thoughts on Pentecost & Holy Spirit

Chi and the Christian understanding of the Holy Spirit share many commonalities. The Old Testament ruach and the New Testament pneuma carry the same ambiguity of multiple meanings, as does Chi, such as “breath, air, wind, or soul.” — Kim

Here’s one thing
you must understand
about this blessing:
it is not for you alone.
It is stubborn about this.
Do not even try
to lay hold of it
if you are by yourself,
thinking you can carry it
on your own …
— Jan Richardson

Both the Jews and Christians celebrate Pentecost. During the Jewish Pentecost, every male Jew living within twenty miles of Jerusalem was legally bound to go up to Jerusalem to participate in the feast. Jewish Pentecost is also known by the name Shebuot or  Shavuot (The Feast of Weeks). … For Christians … It is the day when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles in the form of different tongues. It took place fifty days after the Resurrection of Jesus. The feasts also commemorate the inauguration of the Christian Church by apostles. — latestly.com

… Fire fell, I say, in angel-swarm, and men were changed for good,
To feast with God, to feast on God, to savor holy food.
Bread and wine, body and blood, were shed and tucked in a tomb.
But, out He strolled, and breathed His breath, and the world became a womb …
— Ross Guthrie

You burn with irrepressible, ferocious passion … we can barely stand upright in the face of your love … you would subsume us in the unrelenting hold of your peace … thank god our inadequacy defining you has never stopped you yet. — Cheryl Lawrie… look for – and expect! – the Holy Spirit to come along side us and shake things up, preparing and equipping each and all of us to share the disruptive, surprising, and life-giving word of grace of the God who will not rest until all people enjoy abundant life … — David Lose

English translations also underplay the fear-inducing, adrenalin-pumping, wind-tossed, fire-singed, smoke-filled turmoil of that experience. Those who observed this Pentecost visitation from outside the room are described in the NRSV as “bewildered” (v. 6), “amazed and astonished” (v. 7), and “amazed and perplexed” (v. 12). The Greek terms describing their reactions could be appropriately rendered (following the lead of various lexicons) as confused, in an uproar, beside themselves, undone, blown away, thoroughly disoriented, completely uncomprehending. — Frank Couch

This is not a soft, cuddly Holy Spirit; this is an uncontrollable and unpredictable Spirit … the Spirit is not our private possession — it’s not “mine.” The Spirit is given to the whole community. — Patrick Johnson

The Spirit is like breath, as close as the lungs, the chest, the lips, the fogged canvas where little fingers draw hearts, the tide that rises and falls twenty-three thousand times a day in a rhythm so intimate we forget to notice until it enervates or until a supine yogi says pay attention and its fragile power awes again. … The Spirit is like fire, deceptively polite in its dance atop the wax and wick of our church candles, but wild and mercurial as a storm when unleashed. … The Spirit is like a seal, an emblem bearing the family crest, a promise of belonging, protection, favor. …The Spirit is like wind, earth’s oldest sojourner, which in one place readies a sail, in another whittles a rock, in another commands the trees to bow, in another gently lifts a bridal veil. … The Spirit is like a bird, fragile alloy of heaven and earth, where wind and feather and flight meets breath and blood and bones. … The Spirit is like a womb, from which the living are born again. — Rachel Held Evans

Excerpt from Mindfulness Exercise by Thich Nhat Hanh (full article)

Just recognize: this is an in-breath, this is an out-breath. Very simple, very easy. In order to recognize your in-breath as in-breath, you have to bring your mind home to yourself. What is recognizing your in-breath is your mind, and the object of your mind—the object of your mindfulness—is the in-breath. Mindfulness is always mindful of something. When you drink your tea mindfully, it’s called mindfulness of drinking. When you walk mindfully, it’s called mindfulness of walking. And when you breathe mindfully, that is mindfulness of breathing.

So the object of your mindfulness is your breath, and you just focus your attention on it. Breathing in, this is my in-breath. Breathing out, this is my out-breath. When you do that, the mental discourse will stop. You don’t think anymore. You don’t have to make an effort to stop your thinking; you bring your attention to your in-breath and the mental discourse just stops. That is the miracle of the practice. You don’t think of the past anymore. You don’t think of the future. You don’t think of your projects, because you are focusing your attention, your mindfulness, on your breath.

Spirit as Flame and Fire

Do not feel lonely, the entire universe is inside you.
Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.
Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.
— attributed to Rumi

Love in its essence is spiritual fire. — Seneca

The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire. — Ferdinand Foch

Heat cannot be separated from fire, nor beauty from the eternal. — Dante Alighieri

We cannot tear out a single page of our life, but we can throw the whole book in the fire. — George Sand

You kindled me, heap of ashes that I am, into fire. — Cassandra Clare

… I am … setting fire to the forests
at night when no one else is alive or awake
however you choose to see it and I live in my own flames
sometimes burning too bright and too wild
to make things last or handle myself or anyone else
and so I run. run run run
far and wide until my bones ache and lungs split
and it feels good. Hear that people? It feels good …
― Charlotte Eriksson

Keep a little fire burning; however small, however hidden. ― Cormac McCarthy, The Road

If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is. ― Charles Bukowski

There may be a great fire in our soul, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a wisp of smoke. ― attributed to Vincent van Gogh

The Moth don’t care
when he sees The Flame.
He might get burned,
but he’s in the game.
And once he’s in,
he can’t go back,
he’ll Beat his wings
’til he burns them black…
No, The Moth don’t care
when he sees The Flame …
The Moth don’t care if
The Flame is real,
‘Cause Flame and Moth
got a sweetheart deal.
And nothing fuels
a good flirtation,
Like Need and Anger
and Desperation…
No, The Moth don’t care
if The Flame is real …
― Aimee Mann

Spirit as Wind and Breath

The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also received his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. — Chief Seattle

The breath of life is in the sunlight and the hand of life is in the wind. ― Kahlil Gibran

Close your eyes and turn your face into the wind. Feel it sweep along your skin in an invisible ocean of exultation. Suddenly, you know you are alive. ― Vera Nazarian

The wind shows us how close to the edge we are. — Joan Didion

To most human beings, wind is an irritation. To most trees, wind is a song. ― Mokokoma Mokhonoana 

When men sow the wind it is rational to expect that they will reap the whirlwind. — Frederick Douglass

The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails. — William Arthur Ward

What is the good of your stars and trees, your sunrise and the wind, if they do not enter into our daily lives?— E. M. Forster


 You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of. — Jim Rohn

I hear the wind among the trees Playing the celestial symphonies; I see the branches downward bent, Like keys of some great instrument. — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Pentecost: themes of Holy Spirit setting communities and individuals afire to dream and act, to be heard and understood.

In this Pentecost week, are you seeking the presence of others who will deepen your understanding? Where do you go to hear and see what you cannot hear and see on your own? When knowledge and wisdom come to you, how do you share them beyond yourself to help others flourish? Where are you turning your ears, your eyes, your heart, your mind to perceive the presence of the Spirit and the path to which it is drawing you? — Jan Richardson
Rabbits and Fire (excerpt) — Alberto Rios
Everything’s been said … Of course, they run away from the flame,
Finding movement even when there is none to be found,
Jumping big and high over the wave of fire, or backing
Even harder through the impenetrable
Tangle of hardened saguaro And prickly pear and cholla and barrel,
But whichever way they find,
What happens is what happens: They catch fire
And then bring the fire with them when they run …

Pentecost: Holy Spirit as Fire, Wind, Dreams & Revolution

On Pentecost, may you find your heart singing with the spirit of God, your ears humming with the voice of the Spirit speaking in a language that reaches deep into your soul and wisdom dawning on your mind so that the shackles that have hardened around your mind may be broken, and God’s voice and language set free. — Mark Suriano, Sermon Seeds

… the Holy Spirit isn’t comforting anyone or anything but instead is shaking things up … The Spirit doesn’t take away our problems or make all things right. Rather, the Spirit instead helps us name the inward hopes, desires, and longings that attend anyone who is waiting for God’s redemption. The pain of creation can seem so great and the coming of God’s redemption so far away that the Spirit intervenes, interrupts, and intercedes by giving voice to our deepest needs. — David Lose

Rather, God spoke in the vernacular of the everyday and the everywhere … Any time a language or a voice crying out is suppressed, it is God’s voice, too, we are attempting to silence. We might do well to participate in Pentecost with this in mind, listening for the voice of God among the silenced, the powerless, the ignored, the forgotten, the oppressed, the nobodie. … Pentecost was a rebellion against those that would seek to restrict God to a single, respectable or official language of a single, righteous people or a single, systematic theology. Pentecost was a protest in which God refused to be silenced by the language of the powerful. Instead, on Pentecost, God spoke. And the people in the streets understood. — David Henson, Edges of Faith

Pentecost is an invitation to dream … Like any good dream, these dreams involve adopting a new perspective on what’s possible, rousing our creativity to free us from conventional expectations. They help us see that maybe what we thought was outlandish actually lies within reach. Maybe I can find freedom from what binds me. Maybe there can be justice. Maybe I can make a difference. Maybe a person’s value isn’t determined by her income. Maybe the future of our economy or our society or our planet is not yet determined. Maybe God is here with me, even if my current struggles never go away … And even when this community’s dreams are smaller, more localized or slower to develop, they can still be revolutionary. — Matthew Skinner, HuffingtonPost

Pentecost demands that we listen with a willing heart, and that we open ourselves to ongoing radical transformation. We discover that the pilgrimage does not end here; instead we are called to a new one of sharing our gifts with the world. Soul work is always challenging and calls us beyond our comfort zone. — Christine Valters Paintner, Patheos

… I wonder what it would be like if the Church allowed the Holy Spirit to transform it into a place of deep and implicit belonging — not for the few, but for everyone. — Debie Thomas

On Fire

Do not feel lonely, the entire universe is inside you.
Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.
Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.
— attributed to Rumi

Love in its essence is spiritual fire. — Seneca

The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire. — Ferdinand Foch

Heat cannot be separated from fire, nor beauty from the eternal. — Dante Alighieri

It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. — Frederick Douglass

We cannot tear out a single page of our life, but we can throw the whole book in the fire. — George Sand

You kindled me, heap of ashes that I am, into fire. — Cassandra Clare

… I am … setting fire to the forests
at night when no one else is alive or awake
however you choose to see it and I live in my own flames
sometimes burning too bright and too wild
to make things last or handle myself or anyone else
and so I run. run run run
far and wide until my bones ache and lungs split
and it feels good. Hear that people? It feels good …
― Charlotte Eriksson

Keep a little fire burning; however small, however hidden. ― Cormac McCarthy, The Road

If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is. ― Charles Bukowski, Factotum

There may be a great fire in our soul, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a wisp of smoke. ― attributed to Vincent van Gogh

The Moth don’t care when he sees The Flame.
He might get burned, but he’s in the game.
And once he’s in, he can’t go back, he’ll
Beat his wings ’til he burns them black…
No, The Moth don’t care when he sees The Flame …
The Moth don’t care if The Flame is real,
‘Cause Flame and Moth got a sweetheart deal.
And nothing fuels a good flirtation,
Like Need and Anger and Desperation…
No, The Moth don’t care if The Flame is real …
― Aimee Mann

Reflections: Themes of doubt & faith, walking on water, risking, reaching & calling.

FAITH Frances Anne Kemble
Better trust all, and be deceived,
   And weep that trust, and that deceiving;
Than doubt one heart, that, if believed,
   Had blessed one’s life with true believing.
Oh, in this mocking world, too fast
   The doubting fiend o’ertakes our youth!
Better be cheated to the last,
   Than lose the blessèd hope of truth.

DOUBTAugustine Bowe
Faith can move mountains
Let the mountains be.
For when mountains stir,
There is no peace, even in the sea.

Doubt dares not touch
The heft of stone,
For fear it’s better, much
Better to leave things alone.


Walking on Water

People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle. — Thich Nhat Hahn

When it comes to your life’s work, you can’t take yourself too seriously. Even Jesus had an occasional joke with the boys, take walking on water, for instance – but there’s a time and place for fun. Jesus never faltered when it came time to tip over the money stalls or to take his hard walk up the mountain. — Deacon Jones

Isn’t it instructive that the spiritual formation of the original disciples happens with Jesus on the road? In effect, the disciples learn by doing. They grow into an understanding of this God of love, this God of compassion, this God who loves justice, this God who makes all things new, by participating as active observers and agents of compassion, justice, and newness. … But the spiritual adventure described in the four Gospels does not happen in the sanctuary; it happens on the road, in the company of beggars, prostitutes, and lepers. — Jack Jezreel, Oneing

In God’s eyes, walking on water is no more miraculous than the ability of hemoglobin to bond with oxygen inside a red blood corpuscle. — Deepak Chopra

Walking on water wasn’t built in a day. — Jack Kerouac

We look at the ancient Greeks with their gods on a mountain top throwing lightning bolts and say, ‘Those ancient Greeks. They were so silly. So primitive and naive. Not like our religions. We have burning bushes talking to people and guys walking on water. We’re …sophisticated.’ — Paul Provenza

You believe in a book that has talking animals, wizards, witches, demons, sticks turning into snakes, burning bushes, food falling from the sky, people walking on water, and all sorts of magical, absurd and primitive stories, and you say that we are the ones that need help? — Mark Twain

Jesus Christ would have been considered just another long-haired hippie freak if he hadn’t been crucified. The folks weren’t impressed with healing the sick, feeding the multitudes bread and fish or anything else, except maybe the walking on water. But when he got crucified, that gave him his big start. — Ted Turner

Now I understand. Everything is water. — Vladimir Nabokov, Speak Memory

Helping Hands: Reaching for Connection

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. ‘Pooh?’ he whispered.
‘Yes, Piglet?’ ‘Nothing,’ said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. ‘I just wanted to be sure of you.'” — A.A. Milne‘I felt Holmes’s hand steal into mine and give me a reassuring shake.’ – Watson. — Arthur Conan Doyle

Sooner or later, life is going to lead you (as it did Jesus) into the belly of the whale, into a place where you can’t fix, control, explain, or understand (usually very concrete and personal; it cannot be merely theoretical). That’s where transformation most easily and deeply happens. That’s when you’re uniquely in the hands of God because you cannot “handle” it yourself. — Fr. Richard Rohr

Doubt & Faith

I talk to God but the sky is empty. — Sylvia Plath

Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. — Paul Tillich

There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man. — Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear

Do not be afraid; our fate Cannot be taken from us; it is a gift. — Dante Alighieri, Inferno

Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving. — Frederick Buechner

For to have faith, is to have wings. — J.M. Barrie

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