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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Urban renewal in the city of God


"Lord, send out your spirit and renew the face of the earth."

I used to be fond of thinking and saying that that line from Psalm 104, like many other lines we quickly fire off in our prayer, is a mouthful. "Renew the face of the earth," we say. To me, it seems that when we pray those words we're implying that the structures that are standing, the most powerful of which (in my sphere) may be Western capitalism, nationalism, and manifest destiny, need to be replaced. If the Holy Spirit is going to renew the face of the earth, then certain structures, structures that institutionalize ungodly strategies of inequality, need to be "cast down from their thrones" so that the new city of God with its graceful structures of equality, harmony, and healing can rise from their ashes. Like all wild-eyed revolutionaries and (knee)jerk liberals, I thought of this happening when the right hand of God strikes with power, and the Senatus Populusque Americanus and the gates of Halliburton shall not prevail against him.

But then as I was looking over the Sunday's readings again, I was thinking, Look at how the Holy Spirit worked at Pentecost. True, you have in the Acts version of Pentecost something of a marvel: a theophany of wind and fire, and the strange report of many hearing the proclamation of the apostles in their own language. But really, how long did that moment take to develop into the movement that would sweep the empire? Two hundred years? And by then, how much of the original non-violent message of reconciliation and healing had disappeared into the edge of the sword, merely turning the vanquished into the vanquisher? And even after twenty centuries, aren't there as  many "Christians" who embrace murder and violence and greed as a way of life, as a way of hoarding life and denying it to billions of unseen others, as there are Christians who even see there's something wrong?

Look at the Gospel, an even more quiet Pentecost being described by John. Jesus "breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. As the Father sent me, so I send you.'" John sees the "birthday of the Church" as happening on the cross, when the blood and water of childbirth flowed from the side of Christ, and when, as our newest translation of the Gospel has it, "seeing that all had been accomplished, Jesus handed over the Spirit." Pentecost with the last expiration of Christ. I think that also might be John's "Ascension," as John has made it clear that only when Jesus returns to the Father can the Holy Spirit be handed over. For John, the Paschal Mystery is accomplished in the death and resurrection of the Lord.

Perhaps the mighty wind of the Holy Spirit heard at Pentecost is much more often a quiet breeze, something  heard and experienced in prayer and or even solitude, like the moment of the annunciation, or the baptism of the Lord. One of the lovely men who are our presbyters at St. Anne never tires of using the word "power" in his homilies: the power of love, the power of the Spirit, the power of the gift, &c &c. But just what kind of power is this that gets expressed in the death of an innocent man, that takes two hundred or twenty thousand years to "work," that seems to yield little more than a human institution with all its concomitant sin, bickering, and subterfuge?


Adam and the breath of God, by Nadine Rippelmeyer
I think it must go back to the image of what kind of God we have, just what this Spirit is that is sent among us. The life of the God whom we celebrate is the Spirit of Love. It is the spirit of self-gift and dialogue, a spirit of shared power and creativity. In the final analysis, it is certainly not a power like human power, grasping, violent, judgmental, self-preserving. It's the opposite of all that. It's the "power" of love, the power that comes from completely giving the self away to the point of death for the creation of the other. Love that is willing risk on the other, even fatally. It's God breathing upon the chaos and making light, bending over the clay and breathing out into adama, and making a human person. It's love breathing its last breath, and birth happening in the same instant.

That's what I'm thinking going into the feast of Pentecost, and, I guess, Trinity Sunday, and (maybe the Ascension) for this year. I wonder what you think of all that?