Glittering Pandemonium

A low angle view of buttercup flowers blooming in spring, with a blue sky overhead

Opening to Pentecost Spirit lets in grief and joy.

On Friday I watched the news of the shooting at Santa Fe High School as many of us did and felt the spirit of despair lapping at my heart like a cold tide. 

In the midst of my sorrow, for those who experienced the violence of the school shooting in Texas, I also imagined how those Margery Stoneman Douglas students felt as they heard what had happened. 

I wonder if they felt as though their brave words, “never again” had been thrown back in their faces, as it seems, if one judges by the actions of so many politicians, they have been. 


I wondered if those students felt that spirit of despair

and I hoped if they did it would not prevail,
that they would be filled with another spirit,
one of possibility and perseverance and the power of unity. 
The kind of Spirit we read about today in Acts.

This is a vivid and over the top kind of text;
the kind that is needed at times to break through the spirit of malaise by which the world at times seems transfixed. 

This wild, walloping text comes and shakes us by the shoulders
and in its audacious way insists that we have work to do
and that we will be empowered by God to do that work. 

Witnessing is our work, witnessing without border;
witnessing to the end of the earth.

I imagined as I read the text that the poet Mary Oliver might have been walking by the place where the disciples were gathered when she wrote this poem [ . . .]  I imagined that she felt the wind and saw the flame-light and heard the voices all like a glittering pandemonium.  While Oliver writes of Goldenrod, I imagine buttercups. She writes:

For myself
I was just passing by, when the wind flared
And the blossoms rustled
And the glittering pandemonium [the glittering pandemonium of Pentecost]
Leaned on me.

I was just minding my own business
When I found myself on their straw hill sides
Citron and butter-colored,
And was happy, and why not?
Are not the difficult labours of our lives
Full of dark hours
And what has consciousness come to anyway, so far
That is better than these light-filled bodies [these disciples, these flowers]
All day
On their airy backbones
They toss in the wind
They bend as though it was natural to bend

They rise in a stiff sweetness
In the pure peace
Of giving one’s gold away.”   

“The difficult labors of our lives” are indeed full of dark hours but here we have a text full of “glittering pandemonium” and the promise of “the pure peace of giving one’s gold away”.

What can we make of it?
What can it make of us?

It may be important to notice a few things about the text.

That there is a coherence, we might say a unity in the community. They are all together in one place and they are suddenly gifted with the ability to speak the language of those around them, those in the larger community.  

They are not speaking unintelligible languages but languages that can be understood.  

They are together and they are speaking in ways that bring others together,
in a way that is invitational.

They’re not just speaking about any old thing but about God’s great promise, poured out on “all flesh”

And, they’re speaking about the last days

which they used to understand as the end of the world
but as they now understand it
the moment when in fact the future,
the possibility of God’s kindom or community or common-wealth is poured right into this moment; a foretaste of the unity and healing God desires for creation.

They’re animating a stale world with the poured sparkling Word that gives the ability to prophecy,
to name things authentically

and to see what is beyond violence and meanness and division,
and to see what is beyond violence and meanness and division,

They are seeing the possibility that this world may be washed with dreams and visions in ways that transcend gender and age. 

Following the pattern of Luke, where Jesus’ public ministry begins with the announcement of the Spirit’s empowerment in Luke 4:18-19, quoting Isaiah.

         The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor

Acts, by the same author as Luke we see the church’s public ministry begin with the announcement of the Spirit’s empowerment, quoting from the prophet Joel, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh . . .

The Spirit that empowers us with the possibility of the pure peace that comes from giving one’s gold away?

What can we make of it?
What can it make of us?

If we follow the text, we see that it can make of us a unity who encourage unity beyond our walls. 
It gives us coherence;
we witness in ways that are comprehensible to the wider world

with words and action and a rare and precious stillness. 

It gives us the resources to witness in the way that is ours. 

Just as the disciples spoke in many different languages. 

Just as they spoke in many languages each of us has a way of speaking,

a way of witnessing with our lives. 

Each of us has a language that will speak to someone; that will influence someone’s life or encourage their vision.  

Each congregation I believe has a corporate gift of Spirit too,
a particular gift or way of exercising its ministry in the world
and we are encouraged to ponder that and to turn our energies in that direction so that we can find the “pure peace of giving our gold away.”

Whatever it makes of us;
however we sense the Spirit’s call and equipping
we know prayer will be a part of it. 

And here I return to the spirit of despair that touched me earlier this week.
And the hope I knew I must turn toward.

Whatever else we are called to
we know we are to keep casting our prayers into the world.
Washing despair with hope and hatred with love.

We are called to evidence a different spirit.

I think in the face of all that saddens us in life Walter Wink’s words on prayer and particularly intercessory prayer have wisdom for us.

“Intercession”, he says, is spiritual defiance of what is,
in the name of what God has promised.  [. . .]

Intercession visualizes an alternative future to the one apparently fated by the momentum of current contrary forces. 
It breathes the air of a time yet to be into the suffocating atmosphere of present reality. [ . . .]

It is God who initiates prayer and not us, and God’s power [God’s spirit] not ours.”  
In our text God pours out God’s spirit upon the disciples, a glittering pandemonium of wind and flame.  
In our life too God pours God’s desire into our hearts turning them to the defiant desire that is hope in the face of despair,
of animation in the face of indifference
of love in the face of fear.

Are not the difficult labours of our lives
Full of dark hours
And what has consciousness come to anyway, so far
That is better than these light-filled bodies [these disciples, these flowers]

All day
On their airy backbones
They toss in the wind
They bend as though it was natural to bend
They rise in a stiff sweetness
In the pure peace
Of giving one’s gold away.   

On this Pentecost day may our hearts be light-filled
May the wind teach us to bend
And may we rise in the pure peace of giving our gold away.

Join me on the journey. Rest, Reflect, Replenish

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