Bishop Marty Shanahan’s Reflection
I wonder what the language that speaks of the marvels of God sounds like?
Is it loud or is it soft?
Is it the language of protest?
The language of the monk?
Inside of the Hebrew concept of Ruach—the Breath of God… is the understanding of “anima”…. — maybe some remember the Pentecost prayer entitled “Anima Christi” –“anima” is the root word of “animation” or a more expounded definition….”’ that which inspires one to move from contemplation to action.
This feast is a feast of tremendous possibility, openness, hopefulness, and unbounded grace and of action.
Grounded first and foremost—this feast—is firmly rooted in the first words spoken by Jesus to those gathered in that upper room, locked in their fear… Not just “Peace be with you”….that English translation simply does not do justice to the Hebrew Word… Shalom Shalom… it means literally… ”Nothing missing, nothing broken”…
Shalom—means to speak into and onto each other’s lives the prayer of unity that Jesus prayed last week… Shalom means… in you may nothing be missing and nothing be broken.
Oh that we could speak that word on each other today… nothing missing, nothing broken…
And yet our reality stands in stark contrast to our Gospel… Today, given the wounds of racism and the scars of hatred and recrimination, and because of COVID 19 we stand… at a distance from one another… with a mask… because we dare not to breathe on each other…
Talk about a witness to the power of our breath… we have the power to speak life and we have the power to speak death into the world… all by our breath… By the words we speak, the breath passing over our vocal cords and us forming words, either bring life to others or it brings destruction.
How do we speak life?
Where do we need God to breathe on us today?
It is so powerful, it is beyond words.
A few years back I had the distinct honor of being in one of the oldest Convents in Rome and gathered with a number of you and with others. The Italian nuns who occupied the Convent and who ran it as a
hostel/hotel gathered with us for Mass.
In order for us to have permission to celebrate, I had to use my tablet and speak in English and have Google translator ask the Mother Superior for permission… which she gave in joyful abundance. Mother Superior even told the other nuns that we would be celebrating Mass and they all came!
In this small beautiful chapel in the middle of Rome, we gathered and sang and prayed across and beyond the barrier of language… all through symbol and sign. Some familiar and some unfamiliar. When our dismissal was done, I thanked the nuns for their hospitality and kindness and deep faith. Sr. Rosalina was sitting in one of the far back pews, nearly doubled over by her years and the burdens of grace that she had carried for so many over all her life. She had a sweet smile but you had to bend down to see it.
I ended our liturgy by inviting everyone to sing a very old hymn to Mary, often traditionally sung at the close of many liturgies. Accapella I began….
Salvae Regina Mater miserecordia vita dolce doe et spes nostra salvae….
and from the back pew, came a voice, the voice of an angel, in perfect tune and with a volume that filled the space, accompanied by a smile that is indescribable as we sang the entire song in Latin… clearly the language of her heart and childhood…
As I looked, I saw it was Sr. Rosalina, not bent over but as straight as she could stand, smiling ear to ear and singing with a bravado that would rival Andre Bocelli.
The Holy Spirit… has a language to speak to each of us… be it a song, or symbol, make no mistake God is still speaking. I wonder what places in our lives we need God to breathe? I firmly believe we need to invite God’s breath… Even if it is behind our masks!!!!
Kelly Shanahan’s Reflection
If there is one set of imagery we see over and over again in the bible it is the images of fire and air. In this week’s three readings we hear mentions the words ‘breath’, ‘fire’, and ‘wind’ all referring to the Holy
Spirit. And these are the words and ideas that I’d like to focus on today.
As some of you may know I currently work for the fire department and at the moment I am actually taking a firefighter certification course. One of the first things we learned in this class is how fire is made. We learned that there are three elements that make fire whole, they are fuel, heat, and oxygen. For my training, understanding the building blocks of fire is important for the job I am learning to do— just like understanding the building blocks of our faith should be important to any follower of Christ learning how to live as a Christian. I like to think that God is just like fire—threefold but instead of physical elements, God is made of the Holy Trinity. And this week, the week of Pentecost, our readings finally introduce us to the third piece of the trinity, the holy spirit.
So let’s break down what I mean by God and Fire being similar.
The fire represents our faith and love that we project to the world as followers.
The creator is our first element needed for our faith and fire—fuel. The beginning and the end, the alpha and omega, and what drives our faith.
The Heat is our second element and was brought to us by Jesus when he came to spread the word and works of God.
And lastly, the Holy Spirit is our Oxygen. The spirit continually breathes life into our faith AND as our creed proclaims, invites us to engage with the Lord.
Now the Holy Spirit is probably the hardest of the three parts of the trinity to grasp, just like Oxygen can be difficult to see. The spirit has often been depicted as wind and breath and other invisible things. It is all encompassing, it surrounds us in our everyday experiences. AND Just like in the reaction that creates a fire, the spirit is invisible but indispensable, it plays an essential role in our faith.
Now the spirit can be a bit daunting at first to think about given its intangibility, but I think a line from our second creed that we proclaim every week can provide some clarity as to the roles the spirit plays in our lives: we believe in the holy spirit who prompts us to smile, who sends us invitations to come and dine, who nudges us to openness and tenderness.
The spirit is one who motivates. It inspires action and change. Have you ever felt motivated to help a fallen friend? Felt motivated to compliment a stranger’s outfit? Felt motivated to reach out and elevate
the voices of those who are struggling? The spirit can be as subtle as the urge to smile at the stranger you pass by on a walk in the mornings or as powerful as the motivation to change your career to serve others. The spirit can be playful as the actions of a child sharing a toy with others and as serious as your desire to make a difference in this world.
I hope that Pentecost serves as a reminder to us to listen for the spirit. To act in ways we are being led to. And to think about how the invisible is vital to our faith as a whole.
Cassie Erkens’ Reflection:
Pentecost is so inspiring! In full transparency, I must confess that today’s readings are my very favorite. The combination of the first reading, the second reading, and the gospel sum up for me what it means to be Christian. They outline why I choose to go to church, strive to live church and work to be church for others.
I agree with Reverend John Piper, the former, long-standing senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, when he says that Jesus’ words at the end of the Gospel offer us three gifts: the gift of peace, the gift of purpose, and the gift of power. I’d like to unwrap all 3 gifts.
The Gift of Peace
We are living through tremendous challenges today, so I appreciate Jesus’s reminder of our gift of peace. In the midst of a pandemic, we must distance ourselves from family, friends, and neighbors who may be pre or asymptomatic. We have an economic upheaval that is widening the great divide and leading us into worldwide crises of hunger and despair. We have missing or mistrusted information causing confusion and distrust. And we have an ever-increasing tension in serious issues like race and politics. I think about the gift of peace as a balm for a weary soul. I can find a small space of spiritual solace and perspective there.
The Gift of Purpose
We see the gift of purpose in all 3 readings today. The first two readings remind us that we are all one body and though we many come from many walks of life, and many different perspectives, we are all saying the same thing in the community of Christianity. And in the Gospel, we are reminded to get out of our own way – to forgive and to love others. The gift of purpose gives me a clear vision of my path and my work. It forces me to remain open-minded and to listen to the voices of those with whom I might not agree so I can find the space of common goodness in what we all want as we strive to create a world of peace.
The Gift of Power
The good news is that the gift of Power is two-fold. We have power coming to us through the Holy Spirit and we are also empowered to be the force of good for others. With power comes responsibility, of course, so Jesus reminds us “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.” Our choices define whether or not we are living into our purpose and creating peace.
It all sounds so simple, but you and I both know that it’s not. Let me bring the challenge of these 3 gifts together in my own daily walk. A year ago, I became estranged from a loved one after a heated and hurtful argument. From that moment until this one – a full year later – I have been missing the gift of peace in my life. It was very challenging to forgive my loved one for things that were said and done at that moment and a few others since, but I knew that I couldn’t live into my role as a Christian – acknowledging my purpose and exercising my power in just ways – if I didn’t. I confess it took a lot of time and prayer but eventually, I was able to forgive. And, I extended the olive branch offering and seeking forgiveness. But it has not been accepted and the forgiveness I crave has not been forthcoming. I have discovered first hand that the power one can wield by not forgiving is great. I choose not to ‘retain anyone’s sins,’ so I will continue to pray, to forgive, to examine my life for places where I am not in alignment with my purpose, and to hope for peace again someday.
I believe that accepting the gifts – and the challenges – that come with Peace, Purpose, and Power is our work as Christians in a tumultuous world. I pray that each of us can feel inspired and emboldened, with the Holy Spirit on our side this week. May we see our purpose, live into our power, and find peace in our work to be fully Christian this week.