Pentecost 2005

We ask for peace and forgiveness and we get wind and fire. I lived in California for nine years, in the Bay Area. There’s a wind that blows there in October. It’s a wind that puts the fear of God in you. For a few days the weather heats up, the air wheezes, and this fierce, dry wind whips up the dust and throws it in your face. And the brown hills, tinder-dry after a long rainless summer, begin to crackle and hiss. You see these people standing in the street looking off to the horizon, praying it will not be dark; others will turn their heads as they walk, lifting them at the hint of a whiff of a scent of smoke. For the wind of October fans any spark to full flame and puts fire on the hills which races, driven, eating houses and gardens as it goes. Fifteen years ago only a freak lull in the driving winds saved the city of Berkeley from being burnt down to the ocean’s edge. So everyone waits when the wind changes, sniffing the air. Everyone has buckets of water handy … just in case. The wise have mowed their dusty lawns and swept leaves from their roofs. Everyone waits. The feel of it is eerie—no one wants fire but by god we are all excited—alert, alive, ready to run. It’s a wind of change—feared and loved and wondered at. And it’s what we celebrate today. A wind to blow us all off our feet, turn us like tumbling embers through the avenues of our imagination, and drop us who knows where, doing who knows what. And God doesn’t religious life need that! Doesn’t Church life need that! Doesn’t our world need that! And don’t we fear it and love it and wonder what it might be like? The strangest thing about Pentecost is that wind of change with its fiery tongues. Though it scatters the disciples from their hidden rooms and changes their lives forever, it burns away the one excuse that has separated us since time of myth. These fire-drunk idiots are in the streets undoing the curse of Babel. Babble as they might they cannot be misunderstood. The wind and fire bring a healing, a language, a calling: the peace and forgiveness we have been longing for. And by God we need it: think of all the divisions in us and in our world; the ways we tear apart and are torn; the bitterness; the incomprehension; the fear, the war, the hunger, the oppression. Pentecost seals the fate of the Christian community: we are driven by wind and fire to gather what has been scattered; to understand; to heal; to cross borders and banish barriers. It’s a utopian vision but the people that first Pentecost couldn’t see it; they weren’t praying for it, they didn’t expect it … but when the wind began to blow and the fire followed they were ready to burn. They went up like tinder. Something kindled in them. They burst into flame. And that’s the prayer I can’t quite bring myself to pray today: let me be kindling! Let us be the kingdom’s kindling!