Monday, May 18, 2015

Preparing for Pentecost

One of the many unforgettable moments in my years in Rome involved something very simple, attending mass on Pentecost at the church that used to be the Pantheon. A friend had told me I should go, without telling me what was going to happen. At the end of mass, red rose pedals began to rain down on us through the large circular opening in the roof. While some may see it as Italian kitsch, it certainly caused a moment of wow!— a more emotional response than most Chrisitian have on Pentecost today.

All this week the readings are calling us to prepare for Penecost Sunday by looking at the place of the Holy Spirit in our own lives. We may not be quite as ignorant as the disciples at Ephesus who told Paul they didn't know there was a Holy Spirit, but on most days we may not be too far ahead of them. The Father and the Son we seem to know how to relate to, but the Spirit with the image of the dove does not touch us in the same way.

Step one may be to let go of the dove image. The Holy Spirit is not a thing but a person, the third person of the Trinity. Interestingly the Greek pneuma is neither male nor female but neuter. The word means breath air, or spirit. In the Old Testament the first use of the word is Genesis 1:2. It is the Spirit of God that begins the creation of the universe. With Pentecost we are witnessing a new creation. But that too is a bit abstract.

In the Gospel today Jesus brings it home when he tells his disciples how they will run off snd abandon him but,

I am not alone.

Here the text uses what is called an absolute negative. He is absolutely never alone, so perfect is his unity with the Father.

For us, that state of never being alone comes with our baptism when we first receive the Holy Spirit. We too are absolutely never alone.

Perhaps this week is a good time to return to the original meaning of the word pneuma. Whenever we find ourselves aware of our breathing let us not think of ordinary air that passes in and out of our lungs but of the pneuma hagion, the Holy Breath, the Holy Spirit that constantly provide us with our truest life. And let us constantly remember that we are never alone.