Yesterday the altar was draped in red, the color of Pentecost. Less familiar than Christmas and Easter, Pentecost (“Whitsunday”) is the third great feast of Christianity and commemorates the Holy Spirit coming into the world on “tongues of fire.” From the second chapter of Acts:
Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.Christians date the birth of the church to this event, when the Holy Spirit filled the disciples with an irrepressible urge to preach the Gospel. Today few in the staid Episcopal Church exhibit such missionary zeal. Most prefer to devote their energy toward good works, a commendable inclination to be sure, but not very useful in filling the pews over the long haul.
An altruistic individual doesn’t have to worship to help the homeless and the hungry. There are many effective non-religious organizations that are better at targeting specific social needs. The philanthropist can channel her charitable impulses elsewhere, so there needs to be something more.
The coffee hour, the youth program, or even how the buildings looked may have attracted her in the first place, but what keeps her coming back is the hope that she will find answers to life’s biggest questions, such as: why do terrible things happen to good people, why should I do the right thing when I might be hated for it—in fact how do I find out what the right thing is—and of course the big one, what if anything will happen to me after I die?
We often ask these questions in moments of suffering. Our plans and preconceptions meet the universe, and the universe wins. During our greatest vulnerability the Holy Comforter (another name for the Holy Spirit) comes to us and receives the pain that we cannot bear alone.
These words don’t resonate as I sip my coffee and get ready to leave the house on a Monday full of busy-ness. But the Spirit is patient and will be there when I need Him, and that is a source of comfort to me as I walk out the door. © 2010 Stephen Yuen