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

Reflections on locked room mysteries and love that doesn’t knock: themes from John 20

What barriers stand between you and Love? Can you really keep out a love that is transformative, or will it pass through your closed door and locked heart, somehow? Yet doubt and questions have their place … they sometimes help open the way.

Man goes far away or near but God never goes far-off;
he is always standing close at hand,
and even if he cannot stay within he goes no further than the door.
— Meister Eckhart

Locked Room Mysteries
Locked room mystery lists. What is your favorite locked room mystery?

History of Locked Room Mysteries — Scott Laming (link to article)

The ‘locked room’ mystery is one of the most intriguing sub-genres of crime writing. These books depict a crime committed in what appears to be an entirely impossible situation such as a locked room where the killer has seemingly vanished into thin air.

The concept of a behind-closed-doors mystery has been a plot device since the heyday of Ancient Greece but it was not established as a sub-genre of crime fiction until the 19th century. One of the earliest examples is Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue … Several other authors (Joseph Conrad, Sheridan Le Fanu and Wilkie Collins) also made early attempts at this style of mystery.

The real kick-starter for the genre came in 1892 when Israel Zangwill used the same locked room puzzle concept for his primary plot device in The Big Bow Mystery. However, he added another classic mystery writing element, the red herring … John Dickson Carr, who also wrote as Carter Dickson, is probably the king of the locked room mysteries and The Hollow Man is the Dickson Carr book to read to encounter the best example. Also look up The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux.

ON KNOCKING & ENTERING

Poem — Rumi 
One went to the door of the
Beloved and knocked.
A voice asked: “Who is there?”
He answered: “It is I.”
The voice said: “There is no room
here for me and thee.”
The door was shut.

After a year of solitude
and deprivation
this man returned to the door
of the Beloved.
He knocked.
A voice from within asked:
“Who is there?”
The man said:
“It is Thou.”
The door was opened for him.

If I Knew Then (excerpt) 
— performed by Lady Antebellum,
written by 
Charles Kelley /
Richard Belmont (monty) Powell / Anna Wilson


… ‘Cause love only comes
Once in a while
And knocks on your door
And throws you a smile
And takes every breath,
Leaves every scar,
Speaks through your soul
And sings to your heart …

So I say to you, Ask and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. — Jesus Christ

It’s really interesting how music can knock down a wall and be an open connection between you and someone else where something else can’t. When music comes along, it just opens your heart a little more. — Phillip Sweet

If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. — Milton Berle

No man ever got very high by pulling other people down. The intelligent merchant does not knock his competitors. The sensible worker does not knock those who work with him. Don’t knock your friends. Don’t knock your enemies. Don’t knock yourself. — Alfred Lord Tennyson

If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody.
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

How strange that nature does not knock, and yet does not intrude!
— Emily Dickinson

I can’t never stop nobody, can’t knock nobody hustle.
— The Notorious B.I.G.

There are five issues that make a fist of a hand that can knock America out cold. They’re lack of jobs, obesity, diabetes, homelessness, and lack of good education. — will.i.am

We know we cannot plant seeds with closed fists. To sow, we must open our hands. — Adolfo Perez Esquivel

You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space. — Johnny Cash

All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning. Great works are often born on a street corner or in a restaurant’s revolving door. — Albert Camus

I have become my own version of an optimist. If I can’t make it through one door, I’ll go through another door – or I’ll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present. — Rabindranath Tagore

In oneself lies the whole world and if you know how to look and learn, the door is there and the key is in your hand. Nobody on earth can give you either the key or the door to open, except yourself. — Jiddu Krishnamurti

The outward man is the swinging door; the inner man is the still hinge. — Meister Eckhart

You close the door on me and tell me I can’t, I’m gonna find a way to get in. — Tyler Perry

Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what is seen during the moment. — Carl Sandburg

I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 A.M. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. — Joan Didion

I cannot sleep for dreaming; I cannot dream but I wake and walk about the house as though I’d find you coming through some door. — Arthur Miller

Commentary on Fear, Doubt & Questions: John 20

The fact is that all the great spiritual models of the ages before us found themselves, at one point or another, plunged into doubt, into darkness, into the certainty of uncertainty: Augustine, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Meister Eckhart, John the Baptist, Thomas, Peter, one after another of them all wondered, and wavered, and believed beyond belief. Surely, then, doubt is something to be grateful for, something about which to sing an alleluia. Unlike answers that presume the static nature of God and the spiritual life, doubt stretches us beyond ourselves to the guidance of a God whose face is not always in books. Doubt is what leaves us open to truth, wherever it is, however difficult it may be to accept. But most of all, doubt requires us to reconfirm everything we’ve ever been made to believe is unassailable. Without doubt, life would simply be a series of packaged assumptions, none of them tested, none of them sure, and all of them belonging not to us, but to someone else whose truth we have made our own. — Joan Chittister

… questions … So many of them seemed to imply that people were struggling with the fact that hard things in life are hard. That somehow since they don’t have great positive feelings about God in the midst of their own suffering that this somehow means they lack faith and this worries them. For some reason we tend to think that having faith means unwavering belief, and never doubting and always no matter how awful things get, never ever having negative feelings about God and certainly never wondering if there really is a God. It’s like we’ve forgotten the strong, and totally awesome tradition in the Hebrew Bible of complaining to God.   It’s called lamenting – and we should totally reclaim this part of our tradition…I have a friend who says if you’re going to have a praise band in your church, that’s fine but only if you also have a lament band because being the people of God has always meant a whole lot of both praise andlament. — Nadia Bolz-WeberNot surprisingly, Jesus came to visit his disciples, knowing that they would feel defeated and understanding the support they would need in order to move forward. He bestowed peace upon them, and they were overjoyed when he showed them his wounds. They, like Thomas, apparently needed physical proof of the resurrection. Jesus’ return to visit with his disciples appears to have had a clear mission of fortifying them to continue his work. First of all, they would need peace to counter the turbulence of his death, and secondly, they needed evidence of his resurrection to restore their faith. Jesus dealt with these two pressing issues immediately. He did not simply return to celebrate his resurrection, but to prepare them as he sent them forth to continue the work he had begun. — Samuel Cruz, Workingpreacher.org

John is explicit about the prevailing sentiment behind the closed doors.  They were behind the doors because of fear, one of the most powerful human emotions.  Fear shuts all sorts of doors in our lives.  It shuts the door to anyone who is “other” because it sees them as a threat more than a friend.  Fear causes us to live out of reptilian fight or flight rather than the deeper virtues of faith, hope, and love.  Fear causes us to react to what we fear rather than reflect the one we worship.  When one lives in a constant state of fear, it can actually rewire the brain so that everything looks like a threat.  Fear had the disciples behind locked doors. Despite the pervasiveness of walls and locked doors, however, Jesus walked right through them.  And his greeting to them was one of peace.  — Preston Clegg, The Truett Pulpit

And suddenly, in the midst of their fear and confusion, there he was, not with angels, trumpets, or legions, but quietly, without a hint of anger. No accusations, no trouble or turmoil. Only peace. And then, the very next thing, he gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit – he doesn’t just give it to them, but breathes the Spirit into them. — Katheryn Matthews

Of course, it’s not just a story about Thomas. It’s also a story about frightened disciples. So scared, in fact, that, they hid behind locked doors. And who can blame them? They had just witnessed the one they confessed to be the Messiah betrayed by one of his own, tried and convicted by both religious and civil authorities, and then brutally executed. Little wonder they were afraid, assuming that the next step would be to round up Jesus’ followers. But when Jesus comes on the scene, their fear falls away and is replaced by joy… But that’s not the way it works with Thomas. He doubts. He questions. He disbelieves. He’s not satisfied with second-hand reports and wants to see for himself. And again I would say, who can blame him?  … do we make room for the Thomases in our world? Because I suspect that their number is legion … And sometimes faith is like that – it needs the freedom of questions and doubt to really spring forth and take hold. Otherwise, faith might simply be confused with a repetition of creedal formulas, or giving your verbal consent to the faith statements of others. But true, vigorous, vibrant faith comes, I think, from the freedom to question, wonder, and doubt … Indeed, I think that if we don’t have any doubts we’re probably not taking the story seriously enough. — David Lose

This is John’s great commission: Jesus breathes on his disciples and tells them to be about the business of forgiveness. John’s commission … does not imply the necessity for conversion of others, but a rebirth of the self. — Jonathan Burkey, aplainaccount.com

Resurrection is relationship. A relationship that will never be broken, that will never be abandoned, that will never know separation, and will forever be. Think this is just a pie-in-the-sky promise? Let’s pause and think about how much a relationship that will never end might mean. We live for and exist in relationships that are not life-giving, that are on the brink of dissolving, that will end, most certainly, because of every fault or no fault of our own. Think about the relationships that have changed over time, that can’t go back to the way they were before, that need to change, but maybe can’t and, in the end, maybe that’s okay. So we exist in tension and frustration and grief because we are not sure how to handle an acceptable demise or how to negotiate what this means for our relationships in the future. Think about the relationships that ended too soon — by terrorist acts, the ruthlessness of illness, the not-so-random events of nature’s reaction to environmental complacency, the sudden separations not planned, never anticipated, and so devastating, for whatever reason and for whatever cause. Our lives exist in, are known through, and defined by broken relationships. But it is not so with our relationship with God. — Karoline Lewis, workingpreacher.org

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