Sometimes I find other people challenging. I am tempted to avoid conflict, challenge, discomfort, potential criticism, giving offence and just trying to be radically self-sufficient (which if you know me at all is a laughable concept). I try not to emotionally “need” anyone (also laughable). I am an introvert, I could disappear forever into a rabbit-warren of books and writing and be perfectly happy…except it doesn’t really work that way.
Too little time being “bothered” by other people’s expectations and needs and opinions and ideas and blah blah blah blah can be even worse than too much. I become less and less productive. I can’t see the point of doing this or doing that. Why get out of bed? Why get dressed? why move? Why write things no one really wants to read? Why bother? Why breathe? Why be?
This is not a recent thing for me, but I have been at the extreme of the keeping-people-out cycle and sure I did it for my own protection but it hurt me more than it healed me. My longest-term friends are people who have been patient with my various inabilities to engage at various times and I am grateful for them. I will never be someone who can cope without the possibility of retreat and some alone time but I have learned that too much is as bad (or worse) than not enough.
Just when you thought none of this has anything to do with Pentecost, let me circle back to the first reading. Because for an introvert like me, a severe critic of the church, someone who often disagrees with what we are told to believe…there is a surprising truth in the first reading. The Holy Spirit did not come to atomised individuals, each locked in the safely self-perpetuating labyrinths of their own minds. She waited until they were all together, each having to deal with their own impostor syndrome, their own insecurities and awkwardness, each other’s loudness and stupidity and potential to be irritating and the way they all rubbed up against each other and had to constantly watch and redefine boundaries and feel left out or bored or angry or overwhelmed.
They were all “in one place together” an introverts nightmare and it gets worse, because the Spirit prompts them to reach out to OTHERS and include those who speak different languages. Significantly (and I have probably said this before) she did not work on the hearts of ears of the foreign listeners to change them so that they could understand, she changed the preachers to be heard and understood in people’s own languages. I believe this is something the church gets wrong very often. We say “here is my message now you change to understand it” instead of saying “how can I learn your language to preach love and good news in?”.
Obviously it is disingenuous to pretend that no change at all is demanded from hearers of the true gospel. I am not saying we should be preaching “Keep on competing and exploiting and buying and meaninglessly celebrating nothingness with you novelties and toys that you don’t even really like. Keep on overeating and trying to kill emotional pain by distracting yourself with addictions and fixations and replacements for real life. Keep on denying climate change and protecting borders and trying to return people to narrow and rigid “values” that never worked to begin with while you overwork and turn up your entertainment too loud and invest in brighter lights and flashier baubles and prettier words and hold up social media as a flattering mirror (beauty mode) to avoid facing your own damn loneliness”
I am not saying we shouldn’t call people (ie ourselves) to change.
But what if we stop sweating the small stuff, like what religion someone is or what sexual orientation. Many churches find such an idea controversial but I wonder if we could get further by finding the humanity and good intention in each other.
George Monbiot in his book Out of the Wreckage, asserts that altruism and a desire for connection is intrinsic to human nature to the point that humans are defined by these things. No other animal wants to do acts of kindness and generosity for no reason at all, but humans again and again over centuries (and in some truly horrendous situations) have been observed doing irrational things for the good of others, sometimes strangers, often completely peripheral to their own lives. That is a beautiful thing to be defined by and Monbiot is very persuasive about it.
If I read the bible about how Godde has walked with human-kind and how Christ became embodied with and in and for us then Monbiot’s idea makes perfect sense. He writes from a secular perspective but the eyes of faith see evidence also that he is right. Then I won’t listen to the people who tell us that kindness is about projecting the ego (or something) or that generosity is about passive-aggressive self interest or such nonsenses that try to deconstruct human relationships to transactions and affective bonds to something market-based. Those sorts of thoughts are strong now, they drive our politics. It never fails to amaze me that people can strongly advocate a “Christian” hegemony and a neoliberal one together as if Christianity did not specifically contradict the politics of self-interest and the reduction of the human person to a unit of the market.
But the Spirit has never been about units at all. She flows between and around us when we relate to others. She inspires us to LOVE to truly love each other and ourselves.
So the second reading continues with a celebration of difference, but also of connectedness (what good are severed body parts?). The gospel finishes the glory and triumph of the Easter season (alas over so quickly) with a reminder of the Risen One standing among us giving peace and breathing into us Spirit. It matters how we treat people. It matters what we label and call out as “sin” in ourselves or others. It matters what we let slide. Let’s think a little more about living an Easter reality, alive with the Spirit and attune to the needs and goodness of each other.
Let’s sing the traditional Pentecost sequence, or find our own:
Come, Holy Spirit, come!
Shed splendid radiant light
Come, Mother of the poor
show us how to better share the treasures
you have already brought us.
Shine in our hearts
let our intrinsic worth and desire to love
You love and cradle us,
comfort us and draw us out of despair,
be welcome in our souls
dancing within and setting us dancing.
Refresh us, for we are made for
more than toil or labour
show us how to refresh each other,
give us coolness in the heat
of our passions- anger, fear, desire, disgust.
Beautiful light that is Godde
shine within our hearts
let us be beacons of you to each other.
Let us forget our addictions
and know that only your light, your dance
can fill us.
Without you we have nothing
(but you are with us so we have all).
Heal our wounds, our strength renew
on our dryness pour thy dew
wash the stains of guilt away
(washerwoman God we know you in the waters)
bend the stubborn heart and will
melt the frozen, warm the chill,
(cast down the mighty from their thrones
and lift up the lowly)
guide us so we don’t jump off a cliff
and take so many species with us.
Give us the intrinsic reward of knowing you
let us remember that it is about love
not just saying “Lord. Lord” and bending a knee.
Pour out your gifts, your joys, your inspiration.
Make us embodiments of every radical hope,
make us reckless in generous love,
make us beautiful and light-filled