An unexpected concert brought me a new understanding to the story of the Church's first Pentecost.
told by Deborah
The apostles all got together for the Festival of Weeks (also known as Pentecost), which was in celebration of the first harvest.
All at once the house where they were seemed to explode: first there was a huge blast of wind — it filled the rooms and shook the foundations — then long curling flames like tongues of fire flared up all around, touching every one of them; resting on each like a fiery blessing.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other languages, as enabled by the Spirit. This noise drew a confused and curious crowd.
At the time there were devout Jews from all over the world living in Jerusalem. Those who gathered around were amazed, “What’s going on here?” “That fellow is speaking in the dialect from my home town!” “The woman next to him is talking about divine love and mercy — in fluent Greek; I recognize it.” “And that young boy; listen: he’s boasting about God’s great power … I understand him perfectly, and I grew up in Egypt.” “But these people are Galileans; plain country folk.” “This is amazing!” “They must be filled with the divine Spirit.”
Others sneered, “They’re filled with the spirit all right: the spirit of new-harvest wine.”
A small stream runs along the back of our property; peaceful and unassuming, it generally offers only the occasional blurp or bubble as water whirls across its stoney bottom or slips over a fallen branch. Most nights we have to strain our ears to hear its gentle whispering. But last night everything changed.
It began with a single voice; a sort of ricket-ricket-ricket, as if setting the tempo. Soon another singer joined in, then another and another and another, and before long a huge, multi-member choir had joined together in an amphibian version of the Hallelujah Chorus.
The Moonlight Frog Chorale performed with impressive vigor and enthusiasm — never weakening throughout many, many repetitions. Their harmonies echoed up across the hillside and through the trees. It was as if the silent, somnolent night had suddenly come awake, as if the brilliance of their singing brought light to the darkness. It was glorious.
We were privileged to hear that creekside songfest, so full of energy and delight. And, even though not directed at me personally, it was clear that it was a passionate celebration of — and invitation to — life and love.
This morning at breakfast my husband remarked that our frog friends had put themselves at risk by their concert; calling attention to themselves in an area populated by foxes and coyotes, feral cats, raccoons, and even the occasional owl. Yet, despite the dangers, they did not lower their voices or cease their music, but sang out, loud and long.
Was this daring performance brought about by foolishness, or courage, or were they simply overwhelmed by a joy that was impossible to contain? Did the music flow forth from the depths of their being, from the depths of creation: a song of life demanding to be sung?
Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
~ Psalm 96:1, 11–12
Perhaps the Pentecost event was like last night’s amphibian Great Awakening: perhaps the apostles were overwhelmed by a deep-souled joy that could not be suppressed — a Song of ecstatic delight that flowed forth from the very center of their being. To the cynics this sounded like the effects of cheap wine: tipsy nonsense, like so many frogs ribbitting on a riverbank.
But to those with ears to hear, the hymn of Pentecost spoke volumes. Their hearts told them all that they needed to know.
The experience of the Easter event had taken root within those apostles and had blossomed and matured — and the first fruits were revealed at Pentecost. Here was confirmation of the Gospel: here was an outpouring of God’s abundant love and generosity to all people, here in the midst of this early-harvest celebration. Whoever they were, wherever they had come from, those who heard the Song understood what was being said: their hearts told them all they needed to know.
The apostles’ proclamations of life and love and joy were scorned by the devout doubters: what foolishness to speak as if divine love and compassion made a bean’s worth of difference! The country was in a downward spiral, evil was in ascendence; all that remained was fear, despair, destruction… and death. There was nothing else. Their minds were made up, their ears were closed, their hearts were hardened; they could not hear, they would not hear.
Some seeds fell on stoney ground…
It has been remarked upon (and observed in laboratory studies) that people are inclined to see what we expect to see, to hear what we expect to hear, and to ignore what doesn’t “fit” with our expectations. The temptation to self-confirming prejudices is a dangerous aspect of our nature. Equally problematic is our tendency to affirm, in our own behavior, what we expect to be true. We can become causes of others’ responses: both the good and the bad. We’re inclined to live — often, it is my experience, unthinkingly — by a small set of “truisms”; conducting our lives in a kind of meme-morality. We would like to believe these to be based on the glorious and divine teachings of our Lord:
In all things do unto others as you would have them do to you. ~ Luke 6:31
A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another. ~ John 13:34
Love the Ultimate Boss, the Last Word, God, with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. ~ Matthew 22:37
In reality, though, what we really expect, and anticipate, and believe in — the framework in which we conduct our lives — is quite different. It might be summed up as: “They’re all a bunch of bums!” Or, perhaps, in a more sinister hue: You can’t change the way things are; Good guys finish last; Survival of the fittest; Kill or be killed… Often we live as if God doesn’t make any difference in our world.
We are surrounded by a turgid swamp of hatred and condemnation, hopelessness and fear and anger, sorrow and resentment; the pervasive bitterness sets our teeth on edge. How different from the psalmist’s blessed assurance: “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” How different from the life we are called to affirm, to believe in, to hope for, to make real in the living of our lives!
The world is not hopeless, evil is not ascendant: a new day has dawned, and another is soon to follow. God still has the last word, love is still the greatest power. We still have access to the Greatest Power.
To despair is to surrender to evil, to give up the (Holy) Ghost as a hostage to lies and hatred. To ceaselessly focus on evil is to contribute to its presence and its power — we are liable to find it ruling our thinking and our conduct; it can become our faith: the one thing we believe in.
Instead, we are called to rejoice. Yes, rejoice. As absurd and unlikely as it may seem, it is the supreme act of faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Faith is more than belief, it is more than hope; it is an embodied confidence, an enacted affirmation that the Gospel is true, that grace abounds, that love wins. It is living fearlessly — with outright delight and joy that some (many, perhaps) will consider foolish; as silly as those frogs who revealed themselves to all within earshot in the middle of the dark night.
May we all join together in singing the divine Song.
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
The psalmist has asked: How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? And our reply must always be: We can do nothing else; for that is the Song of Life.
If I forget you, O Glorious Promise, life will lose its meaning. What is real and true will vanish if I do not hold You in my heart and keep You foremost in my mind.
~ Psalm 137:4-6 (dbg)