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An ainm Spiorad Naomh nan gras
An ainm Athar na Cathrach aigh,
An ainm Iosa thug dhinn am bas,
O! an ainm na Tri tha d’ ar dion’s gach cas,
Ma’s math a fhuair thu sinn an nochd,
Seachd fearr gum fag thu sinn gun lochd,
A Ghealach gheal nan trath,
A Ghealach gheal nan trath.


In name of the Holy Spirit of grace
In name of the Father of the City of peace,
In name of Jesus who took death off us,
Oh! in name of the Three who shield us in every need,
If well thou hast found us to-night,
Seven times better mayest thou leave us without harm,
Thou bright white Moon of the seasons,
Bright white Moon of the seasons.  -Andrew Carmichael, The Carmina Gadelica


In the traditions I was raised in, Pentecost was often referred to as ‘the birthday of the church’. In the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples-now-apostles who begin speaking in the various languages and dialects of all the worshippers who have travelled to Jerusalem for the Passover. In a rush of wind and tongues of fire, Spirit enables everyone present to understand the glossolalia (speaking in tongues) of Jesus’ followers.

For some Christians, this is a novel movement of God; for others, it is the bedrock of their theology, especially in charismatic traditions; still for others, it represents a divine feminine expression of the Godhead. The Holy Spirit, represented as a wild goose in many Celtic cultures, was and is an untameable force, blowing new life upon the most darkened of souls.

For me?

It was always just a bit terrifying.

Imagine it: the disciples had just finished witnessing their best friend and teacher be brutally tortured and executed not 50 days earlier. Sure Jesus showed up a few times afterwards to reassure his friends that he was alive and to “fear not”. Yet there were still moments when this group felt it necessary to hide from the world for fear of the mobs who were after their lives.

And suddenly a great wind from Spirit shows up.

She shows up after Jesus has left.

She shows up during a time when silence, stealth, and secrecy are probably wiser courses of action.

She deliberately exposes the disciples without actually asking them if this was something they were ready for (these were folks who, until that very day, we all were calling idiots for not catching on to Jesus’ teaching, and who possessed very few emotional filters).

The crowd mocks them, of course. While much of the world interprets this guffawing as accusatory (many onlookers believed the disciples were early drunks), I always had the sense that it was somewhat protective. Not everyone would have believed the disciples, I’m sure; but no one wanted another crucifixion. No one wanted to give Rome any reason to swoop in and slaughter anyone else. Ensure everyone believes “they’re drunk!” and we all go home alive.

Sometimes we unknowingly force joy into a celebration without remembering the need for that joy to begin with. A movement of the Spirit is indeed a reason to celebrate. But her presence is movement Incarnate — there’s an unpredictable rationale to Her breath.

Not only was there need for the disciples to communicate with others in ways we could all understand, but the disciples themselves needed to know they were not alone and abandoned. Why?

It wasn’t because all was healed and well.

It was because the risk was still great and the sorrow still raw. Only the presence of Love, — their Love — would soothe such pain and astonishment.

Churches of my younger years proclaimed such joy and rapture in Pentecost. I suppose it could be as such — supernatural wind engaging my spirit so deeply as to enable me to communicate with other people. But what miracle is there in tongues for tongues’ own sake? I wonder…

Tongues being literally true or not is besides the point. Being open to Spirit and God is never a safe business.

Oftentimes it’s frightening.

She doesn’t really announce herself, this Spirit. She doesn’t offer much prep work or give a fair warning. She’s a wild expression of God. Wildness doesn’t owe domesticity any explanation.

How like birth — explosive, violent, terrifying, and often damned inconvenient. New life is entering the world, certainly, but in ways that are vulnerable and draining. And once the initial birth is over, we can never go back to how our old lives used to be. So enamoured with the joyous rapture of it all, sometimes we forget the actual pain and struggle of it.

What if I don’t want to connect with this Spirit? What if I don’t want the world to change?

What if I fail?

What if this Spirit fails me?

Leaning into Mystery demands I acknowledge potential failure. She is not sound science, this Spirit. She is experienced and not extrapolated. She is expressed and expressive, not engineered or estimated.

For me, the greater miracle is witnessing a group of traumatised people choosing to receive a new way of being at the risk of their own lives and sanity. A fresh new season was emerging and instead of running from it, they chose to step into it. Joy perhaps comes not at tongues of fire descending on my head, but in the relief and wonder at the reminder:

I am not alone.





3 thoughts on “Pentecost

  1. I appreciate the depth of your thinking and reflection the Gift of the Holy Spirit. She reveals herself to us when we are ready, but not in ways we expect. God honours God’s gift of free will and will not violate his own law. When we are open, the Holy Spirit is permitted to shed her light on what we need to see. Your reflections on Pentecost were greatly received, and I shall ponder upon your discernment. Thank You

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s a striking thought… The protective crowd. They were horrified at what had been done by the mob. They didn’t want any more violence.

    I find that comforting. I do hope that most of us are there, these days. Even as we’re listening to a subversive, elevating spirit.


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