Saturday, May 18, 2013

Diversity in Unity: The Solemnity of Pentecost

In his book Desert Banquet: A Year of Wisdom from the Desert Mothers and Fathers, David G. R. Kelly reflected on these words from Pseudo-Macarius: “The heart directs and governs all the organs of the body. And when grace pastures the heart, it rules over all the members and the thoughts. For there, in the heart, the mind abides as well as all of the thoughts of the soul and its hopes. This is how grace penetrates throughout all the parts of the body.” Pseudo-Macarius understood that the heart is that place where a person’s spirit and the Spirit of God exist together. The mind, the seat of rational thought, is made complete when it abides in the heart and becomes enlightened by “all the thoughts of the soul and all its hopes.” Although our mind is an essential part of who we are, we are only at our best when our minds and hearts move together.

Pentecost by He-Qi
In the Gospel of John, Jesus promised his Apostles, “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you” (John 14:26). It was on the fiftieth day after Easter that the Church experienced the reality that Jesus had promised as the Spirit came upon them in wind, fire, and voice (cf. Acts 2:1-4). What began at Pentecost continues in our own day. Because, although the Spirit does not always come in great signs and wonders as it did for Mary and the Apostles, the Holy Spirit is always present and active.

The truth is that no one person or group could have made the Church. As Eberhard Arnold observed, “No heights of oratory, no flaming enthusiasm, could have awakened for Christ the thousands who were moved at the time, or produced the life-unity of the early Church. The Spirit did not, as you might think, descend upon the speakers in such a way that they preached a sermon or gave a speech to an unenlightened crowd. Instead, fiery tongues of the Spirit ate their way into the hearts of the hearers and inflamed the crowds in one common experience of the same Spirit and the same Christ” (from the essay “Spirit of Fire” in Innerland: A Guide into the Heart of the Gospel). This is the meeting of the human spirit and the Spirit of God in the faithful heart that Pseudo-Macarius wrote of so many centuries ago.

Although it is an element that is often overlooked, the great gift of Pentecost was a restoration of lost unity. As a sort of reversal of the story of the Tower of Babel (cf. Genesis 11:1-9), at Pentecost each believer spoke a language that each of those present heard as their own (Acts 2:5-8). In this powerful sign, the Spirit spoke through human instruments in a way that foretold a future in which all humanity would sing God’s praises in one voice. The Spirit that binds us all together in praise also enriches us with a diversity of gifts. This diversity is essential to the life and health of the Church and if we fall into the trap of equating unity with uniformity then we are, as it were, restricting the work of the Spirit.

Communion of Saints
by Elise Ritter
Saint Paul reminds us, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). The great Solemnity of Pentecost is a celebration of possibilities, both for individual believers and for the Church. The Pentecost of the first Christians was a witnessing of the unifying power of the Spirit for the future.

This future is lived out in each of us in the moments of our lives, when we allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit. By being open to the Spirit, individually and communally, we can celebrate legitimate diversity which is based on giftedness and vocation rather than labels, and we can live a unity that is not afraid of questions, doubts, challenges, and possibilities. We are led outside of ourselves for the sake of others. Saint Paul reminds us that not all will speak in tongues, but each person, with unique gifts, is essential to the Church.

As individual believers and as a Church we have to seek out and heal those wounds that threaten the body of humanity and the Body of Christ. Fear, discrimination, war, disregard for life, bullying, and exploitation are among the many, many forces of evil that lead people away from community and into loneliness and isolation. If the gifts we have received are for the common good, then our Pentecost mission is to share our gifts and spend ourselves nurturing others, drawing them into the unity of the Spirit and the Church, and to open ourselves to the workings of the Spirit in the diversity of the gifts and lives of others. 


1 comment:

  1. Well spoken, Brother Silas. We need constant reminders of what true diversity is lest diversity become merely another excuse for labeling people (worst of all, ourselves) according to a few culturally-recognized categories.