Remembering Pentecost in Ordinary Times
As we settled into the car to head back to Dallas from a weekend in Austin this past January, my mom cued up an audio book she had been listening to. “I promised your cousin I’d read this,” she explained. “You’re not going to like the title.”
“Proof of Heaven.” She was right – my inner skeptic roused as I braced myself for four hours of sentimental hokum garbed in empirical pretense. “If there’s an altar call or anything political, I’m out,” I let it be known. But as the author, neurosurgeon Eben Alexander narrated his near death experience, delivering a Dante-like guided tour through realms of consciousness beyond the brain – beyond body and time – I let myself float with him into that universe. I sat silent and spellbound all the way up I-35.
“How do you tell people they’re living in a new world?” Alexander asked. I desperately wanted to know. “A world of superabundance,” he elaborated – a world “charged with the grandeur of God, shining from shook foil”– a universe utterly lit by divine love yet perceptually dimmed by the limited capacity of the human brain. No words. Yet, he urgently wanted to convey: we are immersed in love inescapably, swimming like fish in the waters of divine glory. “You have nothing to fear. There is nothing you can do wrong.” I felt a surge of relief and joy to hear this – my mortal yoke temporarily light.
This vision, which I sipped at like the cup of Starbucks I mindlessly consumed as we careened down the highway, was what was granted in full to the lucky Twelve in Jerusalem that Pentecost morning. The sound of a great wind – or perhaps a nation of dry bones rattling back together – rushed upon them as unconsuming flames flickered about. The message: You were always, already saved. I am here, everywhere. Now, it is fulfilled. You’ll see in your dreams and visions that there’s more to come. History hinged as the Holy Spirit opened the third eye to the superabundant universe.
Like a massage, it resolves my inner knots to bask in this story we retell each year at Pentecost. How can we ever tire of hearing it? Or grow bored of its universal vision: The covenant with Israel still stands. The Trinity springs up out of it. The Advocate has come as ever present comforter. It is a new world now. Victory is assured.
Yet, I still want to know how to preserve this awareness in my daily life. I am thrilled by the enlightenment, but after a bit my overdeveloped neo-cortex resumes command and the light filters out again. Time feels ordinary and I want to know, like the one in the desert fellowship: “As far as I can, I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace, and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” How do we not forget that we are living in a new world?
The wise answer came to that desert seeker: “If you will, you can become all aflame.” We, too, can become the burning bush, extra-ordinary sacraments transparent to the radiant World Soul.
How? I wager for one, by heeding the liturgical wheel of time as we emerge from Eastertide and into the arising of Christ’s church, the Kingdom of God. Also by our devotion, dissolving the ego and uncovering our truest selves in loving God and all people. There are countless creative ways to bear this out. I hope to write about them in my blog columns. I hope and pray that we, illumined by Pentecost, continue to refresh the light for each other in faithful disciplines as well as stirring visions, brilliant dreams, and invigorating prophecies as the Spirit grants.
For me, today, this is how being spirit-filled takes shape:
- Committing Rumi’s “A Garden Beyond Paradise” to memory
- Sacred conversations at the Retreat House
- Trying to practice mindful welcome and release when negative emotions arise
- Long Sunday afternoons cooking and sunny evening jogs at White Rock
- And of course, beginning this blogging journey…
Jennifer Hancock-Gattis joined NorthPark Presbyterian Church in 2007 and is an ordained elder. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the College of William and Mary and a Master of Arts in Religion from Yale.