Pentecost is a word from centuries of “church jargon” which point to the day on which the Holy Spirit was given to God’s followers. Actually, the Holy Spirit has been “given” from time immemorial but people didn’t recognize It. In early church history, Pentecost was a story made up some 50 years after Jesus walked on earth, along with the idea of a physical resurrection of the body. In Luke’s account called “The Acts of the Apostles,” written around 90 A.D., he portrays Jesus ascending up into heaven forty days after the resurrection and then ten days later, on Pentecost (dating from the resurrection), the Spirit arrived.
What counts is the realization of Spirit in our lives. We all need a “Pentecost” experience when we realize we are not alone, but connected with Spirit which is connected to the essence of all peoples. Presbyterians have not been thought of too much as “Pentecostal” since we generally have seen ourselves as pretty special by God’s standards, chosen to be the elect. As such, we don’t have many outbursts of deep joy at the realization we are connected with Everything!
One story that floats around is how a man is sitting in a Presbyterian Church one service raising his hands and saying “Praise God, Thank You Jesus” etc. during the singing and even the speaking. An usher finally comes to him and asks with sternness in the voice, “What are you doing?” The man says, “Praising God!” to which the usher said, “Not in this church! Do any more of that nonsense and you’ll have to leave!”
Or the one about the local EMTs receiving a call that a person had died during the service of a nearby Presbyterian Church. They were asked to come and removed the poor soul so the service could continue without the interruption. Well, when the EMTs arrived, they carried out the first two rows of people before finding the one really dead!
Anyway, a true Spirit realization or awareness gives people the sense of oneness with all. That’s the point of Luke’s account of the day in Acts chapter two when people from around the known world understood each other in their own language. The point is that Spirit gives us the sense of oneness with all. The foundation of such an awareness is that we all are God’s Sons and Daughters, endowed with the Eternal Spirit which is much deeper and longer lasting than bodies or shared ideas and values.
Surprisingly, most organized religious groups pride themselves on their specialness, or favoritism in the eyes of the Creator. We go so far to damn others not of our name or likeness and if the people happen to be more of the native “earth people” of the land, we have shown very little respect or mercy. People of other color have been despised and enslaved, reduced to the idea of being just animals. Not very good for people who yearly have observed and celebrated “Pentecost Sunday.”
In modern day Presbyterianism, people who work for “justice” often cry out against the evil doers of the day and often come close to this polarization. In the name of Jesus, we divide up the good and the bad, the chosen and the “Pharisees.” In the years of the Viet Nam War and its protests, we often called returning soldiers “baby killers,” forgetting our own complicity and Oneness as God’s Eternal Children. We do alright if people look like us, think like us, and follow our values. But God have mercy if the “lines” are crossed.
Years ago, Mother Teresa was asked to attend a “Anti-War” rally and she refused saying as soon as they put together a “Pro-Peace” rally she’d be there! It is so easy to become overwhelmed by all the cruelty and senselessness of the world that we quickly try to side with the good guys against the bad guys. Spirit will give us a sense of connection and love with both.
Spirit realization will also bring to us a deep sense of peace about the present and the future. “When the Spirit comes,” Jesus says according to John, “He will guide you into all truth.” What is the truth? That whatever happens, we are never disconnected from our Source. Even in prison the Apostle Paul could write, “I have learned that in whatever state I am in, therewith to be content.” (Phil. 4:11) This exemplifies the experience of Oneness and total satisfaction on the deepest level. Earlier he wrote how in prison, facing death, he was content and had such a deep experience of his Eternal Oneness that it was hard for him to decide whether to live or die. How does one come to such a place? By remembering daily, each minute, that our Essence, our Soul, is never separated from God.
People often wonder how they might be at death, or facing the eminent passing from this time/space world of existence. Well, “abiding in Spirit” daily is the answer. It involves being quiet, sitting in meditation, the deep use of reason that can only convince you that whatever is mortal around us, including our bodies and thinking minds, is short-lived and mortal.
In Buddhism, this idea of living in freedom, connected to Spirit, the All, is called “detachment.” Sorrow, worry, fear, are all associated with attachment to mortality. In Christianity, I think of John’s words, “Love not the world nor the things that are in the world. For the love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world-the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desires are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.” (1 John 2:15-16)
A couple weeks I ago played a round of golf at the nearby South Shore course. I was feeling tired but very relaxed when finished, feeling peace as I walked toward my car. Just as I arrived I heard someone running up behind me asking, “Is that your red Camry?” “Oh no,” I thought, “it’s parked right next to the first fairway and I bet someone hit it!” But then the man said, “That car is in such great shape! How old it is it, and how long have you had it?” Well, I laughed, relieved that a ball had not dinged my paint, and told him I’ve had it for 10 years.
We get so protective and possessive of our things. We forget that most of them we prized will just be carried to the curb when we pass on! I hear that all the time. Yet we become easily to attached, to hooked by things including our bodies.
In the Spirit, we learn to live a life of “holy detachment.” It can be so simple, actually. We choose to go one way, and if it works, fine. If we choose to go another direction and it doesn’t, well so what? We do well and we make mistakes. It’s the way of this life. God is not angry or disappointed; we are, our egos are bruised. We go to the doctor and get a nice health report. We go and get a not so nice report. We know we will be okay, that all this life is but a dream, an illusion compared to eternity of which we have always been a part, and always will.
Of course, this realization can’t be rushed, or even demanded. It has to be nurtured, pondered, studied and contemplation. The early story has Jesus telling his disciples to go to Jerusalem and wait for 10 days in that room. It was a ten day retreat, away from the other necessities of the day, until the realization of the God-Presence descended upon them like a dove!
Spirit, Life realization is like going to sleep. We can’t force it or demand it! Oh, we might be able to take some drugs, but then we’ll have side effects we don’t want. We can stop drinking and eating stimulants, we can play quiet music, get a softer bed, shut the blinds, but in the end, it just has to happen.
Becoming aware and experiencing a wonderful, rapturous way of the Presence of Spirit comes from a life of cultivating our Spirit garden. We seek to live in the moment, without expectations and attachments to outcomes. We learn to practice forgiveness of ourselves and others. And then in time, the fruit ripens, the leaves and petals open, and the sense of Oneness, of being with Everything, becomes overwhelming, and like Jacob of old, who wrestled with God all night, we walk away in the morning with perhaps a new gait, but knowing we have been blessed. We have had our “Pentecost” for the moment, for eternity.