Have you found any cute Pentecost bunnies, or gotten some Pentecost chocolate eggs? How about that Pentecost wrapping paper on sale at the mall? And have you sent out your Pentecost cards?
No? Me neither.
In the galaxy of Christian holidays that have been assimilated into popular culture, Pentecost doesn’t cut it. I guess it’s hard to find a merchandise angle for wind, fire, courage and grace.
It’s actually rather nice. It’s aggravating to see all those pastel eggs show up on Ash Wednesday, and even Jesus must be tired of Elf on a Shelf.
Pentecost can be our secret, an event we celebrate this year on May 20.
Pentecost is a big deal to Christians. Sometimes we call it the birthday of the church. It lends itself well to the prayerful Catholic imagination, too, so Saint Ignatius, who always urged us toward imaginative prayer, would be leading us to that upper room to spend some time.
I like to think of the disciples as a rather rag-tag group of followers sitting huddled in that upper room. They were completely devastated by the crucifixion — who wouldn’t be? Their hope that Jesus might be “the one to set Israel free,” as one journeying to Emmaus put it, was dashed in the most brutal, humiliating and bloody way.
Then there were all those mysterious appearances of the Risen Lord, who was recognizable but not quite the same as before. You would think this would have energized the disciples immensely, galvanized them, but something held them back. Maybe it was awe mixed with a complete lack of understanding of what they should do next. And then, the Ascension takes this Jesus away, and they are left again with a sense of loneliness and confusion.
Enter the Holy Spirit.
In Scripture, the Holy Spirit inspires a remarkable moment of conversion on Pentecost. There is wind and fire, then the apostles emerging boldly from the upper room to speak in understandable words to Jews who have come to a festival in Jerusalem from foreign lands with foreign tongues.
This courage will take the disciples unflinchingly to martyrdom as their community of believers expands beyond borders.
While Pentecost speaks to audacity and bravery, I love the first line of Genesis that speaks of the spirit: “The earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters.” There, the Spirit hovers over the abyss, bringing order out of chaos. Not just any wind — a mighty wind.
Does praying to the Holy Spirit come easily? Or did it take a few years of your life to eliminate that childhood picture of the Holy Spirit as a merely a white bird?
For me, one of the most appealing things about praying to the Spirit is that the Spirit does not present a corporeal form in my imagination. Jesus is a man, often portrayed as a Northern European in both classic and contemporary art. The first person in the Trinity was consigned the unfortunate image of an old white-bearded guy.
But, once the Holy Spirit surprises us as silence, presence, energy, wind, fire, the deepest part of your prayer experience. Grace.
The Spirit is who you meet in those rare moments when you really feel touched by prayer.
I heard the late Father Theodore Hesburgh, then president of Notre Dame University, say that in time of trouble he always said a simple prayer and it always helped: “Come, Holy Spirit.”
May grace fill your Pentecost.