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Pentecost: Celebrating the Gifts of the Spirit

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Religious holidays punctuate the year to remind us of God’s grace breaking into ordinary time. A good spiritual practice is to notice these special times and express gratitude for them.

One such time occurs this weekend as Christians observe Pentecost. This past week, Jews observed Shavu’ot, which is celebrated 50 days after the first day of Passover; traditionally, for this festival the first fruits of the harvest were brought to the Temple. It also commemorates the giving of the Torah to Moses, and the day’s reading in the synagogue includes the Ten Commandments.

During one such festival, according to the account given in Acts 2, Jesus’s disciples were gathered together when there came a sound like the rush of wind, tongues of flames appeared to touch each of them, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. This, then, is a time for celebrating the many gifts of God, especially the ongoing presence of the Spirit. We encourage you to name this special day with appropriate activities — as we have done for many years.

* * * * * * *We were married the Saturday before Pentecost. We chose the date to honor our deep belief that the Spirit had brought us together. We had borders of flames carved into our wedding rings to remind us of the tongues of fire that came upon the early followers of Jesus. During our wedding ceremony a member of the bridal party read us the Pentecost lesson from Acts 2:17: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”

For the past 38 years we have celebrated both our anniversary and Pentecost together, even when the actual dates have been weeks apart. We will do so again this year.

In Encountering God Diana Eck describes the dramatic and creative ways Pentecost was celebrated in the Middle Ages. Some churches had “Holy Spirit holes” in the ceiling to symbolize their openness to God. On Pentecost, doves were released through the holes and bundles of rose petals were dropped from them onto the people gathered inside. Choirboys moved through the congregation making whooshing sounds and playing drums to remind everyone of the rush of the Spirit. What a ritual that must have been!

Our own observation of Pentecost is not quite so dramatic, but it is very meaningful to us. We have a ritual tree made of twisted willow vines. Each year (except when we have foster kittens) we decorate it for Pentecost with silk rosebuds and small red doves. One year when our friend Ieva, a Lutheran minister from Sweden, visited, we spent an afternoon making flames out of red, yellow, and orange construction paper. As we attached these to the branches of the tree, we talked about how the Holy Spirit flames up in our lives.

Ieva recalled a recent visit with a very elderly woman who had lost the sight of one eye but rejoiced that she could still see clearly with the other. Such gratitude amid difficulty is a sign of the Spirit.

We talked about how it seems that whenever we are feeling burned out and wondering if anyone is reading our books or visiting our website, the phone rings or an email arrives. And it will be someone ordering a discussion guide, or telling us she loved a movie we’d recommended that she would have otherwise missed, or thanking us for covering his book, or just expressing support for what we are doing. “That was the Spirit calling,” we’ll say. It’s like the old hymn goes, “Sometimes I feel discouraged, and think my work’s in vain. But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.”

This Pentecost we encourage you to find ways to celebrate “the shy member of the Trinity” (a term coined by Christian theologian Jurgen Moltmann).

• Think flames, doves, wind, and movement. Make a mobile using toy doves or images of flames.
• Place different sized red candles — one to represent each member of your family or community — in the center of your dining table.
• Eat red things: tomatoes, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, chilies.
• Begin your meal by holding hands and saying to the person on your right: “You are the temple of God and the Holy Spirit dwells within you.”

One of the reasons we love Pentecost so much is that it signifies wild freedom and intoxicating joy. The Holy Spirit is always confounding our expectations, slipping out of our restrictive ideas, and opening new doors for the people of God. So on this very special day, we suggest you offer the following toast.

Invite family and friends to bring a special goblet, glass, or mug to a Pentecost gathering. Fill them with celebratory beverages. Then stand in a circle. Have each person share a brief example of feeling blessed by the Holy Spirit. The younger people may want to share visions, and the older people, dreams. After each person has spoken, raise your goblets and toast “To the Holy Spirit”!

This article was first published in The Lutheran, June 2001 and can currently be found at: Spirituality and Practice

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