Listen and Learn

PENTECOST 2019     

A couple of weeks ago, I got a message from a friend, requesting that I come to Queen’s Park about 4.00 pm the following Monday to join a demonstration. The occasion for this was the attempt on the part of the NDP to pass a bill declaring climate change an emergency.

But a striking fact about this invitation was that I was requested to wear my clergy collar.  Now if, like me, you’ve been to many lefty- type protests,  you often DON’T want to be identified as a clergy person! But not this time. I was there were greeted with open arms, invited to pray and then to pose for a group photo.  

Walking back to the subway, I pondered on this turn of events. It occurred to me that maybe it was because the organizers, mostly university and high school students, are for the most part, “unchurched.” Their parents likely didn’t bother baptizing them and regular church attendance was not a part of their upbringing. So maybe this unchurched generation are not as predisposed to regard the church as something alien.

Is this part of Pentecost 2019 perhaps? In today’s reading from ACTS 2 we read:: I will pour out my spirit on ALL flesh. Your young people shall prophecy and see visions and old people shall dream dreams.

 This generation of young people is seeing a vision of climate crisis and they’re out in the streets, at the forefront of the call to prophetic awakening and change. In the wake of the climate emergency they are calling for a radical conversion of life.

I believe that In this new Pentecost, the church’s role is to LISTEN and LEARN the language of those who are speaking about today’s issues in a whole new diversity of scientific tongues. And this calls for a new the kind of humility that has not previously been a feature of Christian practice. Just as at the first Pentecost, the church is now called to learn a new language and interpret the message in a multiplicity of ways to a diverse population.

Now that’s not to say that our various traditions do not contain some precious treasures, but the handing on of tradition cannot be static: it is dynamic and evolving and the Spirit is now calling us to move beyond our comfort zones.

Yes – That invitation to Queen’s Park called to me to witness to what I stand for as a priest, but outside the familiar walls of a church. And not as a leader but as an invited listener and participant. I am convinced that this is a part of the new Pentecost happening in our day.

The Spirit embodies the life force of the evolving universe. The Spirit animates all creation, but cannot be captured or held back in any one place or time. You cannot put wind or fire in a box or a cage. Scientists tell us that the cosmos is for ever unfolding with the energy that fired its first elements  into being billions of years ago and now holds it in a dynamic homeostasis.

In Psalm 104 today, we experience God rejoicing in the midst of creation:   

O God you are …wrapped in light as a garment…you ride on the wings of the wind, with fir and flame as your messengers…the earth is satisfied with the fruits of your work. You cause the grass to grow for the cattle and plants for people to use…

This whole psalm is a catalogue of the wonders of the cosmos and the earth in particular which is a living system much as it was described in the 1960s by James Lovelock in the Gaia theory. The Spirit renewing the face of the earth is speaking out today in the voices of scientists who have gifted us with the story of the connection of all life.

The First Peoples of this land understood this so well from the beginning. The Spirit moved over the land with indigenous peoples who recognized the sacredness of the earth and all its creatures. The colonizers with their false warring God tried to suppress that Spirit but today she has flamed forth again to inspire the courage of the victims of violence and the process of truth – telling.  Truth, justice have to be honoured before there can be reconciliation.

 And as Jesus says in the Gospel (John 16): the Advocate will teach us everything and remind us of the true meaning of Christ’s message. In the courts and in the struggles for justice, the Spirit Advocate stands for the rights of all who have been excluded on the grounds of race, gender, sexual orientation or any of the other sub categories that humans have used to place restrictions on one another.  

But prophetic witness can only be sustained if it is accompanied by deep contemplation. One of the treasures of our tradition that is very inspired by the work of the Spirit is mysticism. Mystics like the twelfth century Hildegarde of Bingen, whose writings ,art and prayers have been much seized on by many in the feminist and environmental movements. And no wonder! Here is Hildegarde writing about the life of the Spirit the penetrates the life of all creation:

“I am the fiery life of the essence of God: I am the flame above the beauty of the fields; I shine in the waters; I burn in the sun, the moon and the stars. And with the blowing wind, I quicken all things vitally by an unseen, all-sustaining life.”

As we have just recited in today’s psalm: “ O God, when you send forth your Spirit you renew the face of the earth.” Or as  Hildegarde wrote, dare I say with a touch of the erotic, in one of her other visionary texts :

“With my mouth, says God, I kiss my chosen creation. I uniquely embrace every creature I have made out of the earth’s clay. The earth contains all moistness, all verdancy, all germinating power.”

Needless such an overtly earthy spirituality, especially coming from women, did not sit well with the official church. Because they proclaimed a wildness of the spirit of God that could not be captured and contained within dogmas, mystics like Hildegarde, often ran into censure from the hierarchy.  

Mystics to me are like a stream of water that refreshes and also stirs us up to see the wonders of God shining through creation. (I will now say a few words in Spanish about another of my favorite women mystics and writers, Sor Juana de la Cruz)

Mi parece que había otra moncha famosa in Mexico, Sor Juana de la Cruz, quien estaba muy consciente de la unidad de la humanidad y la naturaleza. In sus poemas, escribí de la natura divina de las flores:

Rosa divina que en gentil cultura eres, con tu fragante sutileza, magisterio purpúreo en la belleza, enseñanza nevada a la hermosura.

Divine rose, in your gentle growing  
you embody, with your fragrant subtlety,  
a teaching in loveliness that,  
surpasses even the beauty of a fresh snowfall.

And now I see this greening Spirit at work inspiring and fortifying young people like 16 year old Greta Thunberg from Sweden. She is so in love with creation and overwhelmed by grief at its potential loss. Greta was completely alone when she skipped school one Friday last year in order to protest against climate change. She came to my mind when I saw the reading from Romans 8 for today:  

We know that creation will be set free from its bondage: it has been groaning inwardly in labour pains until now; and we ourselves groan inwardly with the Spirit of God

The Spirit groaning in labour within Greta’s soul compelled her to risk moving beyond her school limits and risk censure to protest alone on the streets. And now the Spirit has inspired thousand of other young people to join her.

So another Pentecost is in the making. Just like the first Pentecost, it is driving people outside the walls of their secure Upper Rooms and onto the streets. (Indeed tomorrow, Monday, people of faith will join others on the streets of this city).

The Spirit groans now with the worldwide extinction of animal species and the destruction of their habitats with the onset of world climate change. But it is not too late to hope and work for a re-greening of the soul of humanity. Joanna Macy call this process The Great Turning: the global shift in consciousness that both awakens us to the crisis in our climate and that also  calls us once again to fall in love with the earth. There is still time for the Spirit of Pentecost to green all of our souls.   

I leave the last word to Hildegarde:

“We shall awaken from our dullness and rise vigorously towards justice. If we fall in love with creation deeper and deeper, we will respond to its endangerment with passion.” May it be so!   

Come Holy Spirit, Come!

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