It is interesting to me, how the Pentecost story disrupts the orderly group-think of church. And yet as church we are really uncomfortable with heterodox thoughts and even diverse ways of expression aren’t we? I wonder if the Spirit was moving in the words of the apostles or in the ears of the hearers to make sense? I love that there was not one message, in one voice, in one language but understanding was brought into the culture and world of each “in our own languages”. This fits with the psalms portrayal of creation as “manifold” and diverse, yet all going back to the same source, the same God.
I have felt recreated this week in some of the happenings of my life. I feel God patiently waiting for me to get over my flaws and reluctance. I had a paper to write for university, an academic piece of work with no direct connection to God or to my Vocation. I could not get through my anxiety and writers block, and in the end I recognised that this was exactly the same anxiety and writer’s block I feel every week about my blog posts, and especially the weeks when I am “actually preaching”, giving the talk to a group of people.
So I did what I do when faced with that block, I prayed that God would help and inspire me to bring me through the block. Then I apologised to God for praying this in a secular matter “I can’t pretend it is for your glory” I said, feeling guilty and shallow when surely there are far more important things in the world than my paper. I think God shook her head, she seemed to say to me “All this time we have grappled with this and still you do not understand! What other evidence do you need? Your real life, your identity, the things that give you joy and put fire in your heart are not opposed to your vocation. I call you as you are. I call a nerdy person who wants to write academic papers. Did I ever ask you to stop? No. I want you to stop doubting and trust me and use your gifts.”
I tried saying “after this God I will return to things that really matter.”
God said, “Try to have integrity in your work, in everything you do. There does not need to be seperation between your life in yourself and your life in me” And then God added “but you do need to show more love, thoughtfulness and care for others. I am not letting you off from that higher duty.” God’s spirit is radical and unsettling, but it is a spirit of good news and being humanised. We work to orient our lives and our motivations to her, but we DO live on this earth.
This brings me to my quarrel with the second reading. I think that we are made “in the flesh” and we can and do please God “in the flesh”. I’d love to rehabilitate that idea of the Spirit being higher than the Flesh somehow but I cannot. We are fleshly creatures and our spirits live in flesh and have the needs and desires of flesh and when people try to be “higher” than the flesh too much and repress their flesh then all sorts of unhealthy extremes result. On a simple level if I am too holy to eat then I will collapse. If I am too holy to sleep then my mind will be compromised and I will lose the ability to relate to others. If I set myself apart from human interactions or over/above the earth itself then I will fall into sinful arrogance.
If Christ is in us, then the BREAD of life is in us. Bread. Food. Material good. Christ walked upon the earth and with hands that touched the skin of another human being and laughed and cried and coughed and sneezed and yes even relieved himself. The church has attempted to “put to death the deeds of the body” and has shunned women who are less able to be out of touch with bodies that bleed or swell with new life. But without their mother’s fleshly life which of us would have life? Without the hands that perform base chores like feeding and washing and holding what would we be? We would not even be human, we would not live long and our lives would be nothing.
And there’s the flaw with the spirit of “adoption” theory (sorry to Paul or whoever wrote the letter to the Romans) because it is grounded in a FATHERHOOD from a very patriarchal time,where fatherhood was far removed from the reality of baby vomit, nappies and such mundane fleshly matters. But what if we are adopted instead by a nurturing God who holds us as we are and loves us even when we are less than pristine? Because how can we say “we have suffered with him” whose real flesh was torn by nails and thorn and scourged, whose heart broke at the physical sound of taunting voices and lost, grieving followers? How can we tell Jesus who told the women of Jerusalem to look to their own suffering, how can we tell that Christ that with him we simply rise above worldly messes.
This sort of apolitical thinking, this sort of compartmentalised way of being is a trap of privilege. In the church it has been spread and glorified through men, largely white men and through those who wield power over others. I cannot agree with what this reading seems to be saying, God does not call me out of my flesh, God calls me to let the Spirit into my flesh and allow her to orient my life toward happiness. Happiness does not mean self-indulgence but it may involve self-care as well as care for others.
And so having dared to quarrel with scripture I move on to the gospel. Jesus here equates love with keeping words. There is a unity of purpose within the trinity, in that the “father” with Jesus and the Spirit all love on each other’s behalf and all move on each other’s behalf and it it that life we are called into. The life where we participate in that unity of purpose and that love is what we are invited to, but in acknowledgement that we are still learning how to live it and be it the Spirit comes to us as a teacher, to “teach us everything”. The Spirit who is always new must be aware that there is a movement in teaching toward play-based and inquiry-based pedagogies. We don’t sit in rows spouting rote-learned dogma, we live our lives and follow our interests while paying attention to the rich, deep learning offered by the spirit in how to be love.
In the words of Miriam Therese Winter: “Come Spirit come and be, a new reality, your touch is guarantee, of love alive in me” And to each of us she will come in a language we can understand. “May my meditation be pleasing to her”