Friday, January 29, 2010

Pentecost, A Poet's Tale

(from Acts 1 and 2—a story of incarnation)

"What in the world is going on? I've never participated in a Shavuot ("Festival of Weeks," a holiday commemorating the grain harvest and the teachings of Moses given at Sinai) so full of energy."
"I know. Isn't it great? It's as if God were about to give the Torah (teachings) to us all over again."
"I imagine this is exactly how it felt at the foot of Mount Sinai when Moses presented the Torah to the people for the first time. There had to be such a sense of promise. For the first time our people had tangible ways to practice being God's shalom (peace and good will) in the world."

"Isn't that Peter, the follower of Jesus, up there speaking?"
"It sure is!"
"Isn't he an uneducated Galilean fisher? Isn't his native tongue Aramaic? Where did he learn to speak Greek so eloquently?"
"Greek? What do you mean? That's the finest Leshon HaKodesh ("The Holy Tongue," Hebrew) I've ever heard. And to think that he'd be so bold as to use it for such a public occasion is magnificent! Praise Elohim!"
"What are you two talking about? I know both Greek and Hebrew. What you are hearing is Arabic, the language of the eastern scholars."

"You know what is happening, don't you?" a bystander interjected. "Each of you is hearing what is happening through the language of your own imagination. Even when you know multiple languages, your dominant language, the language of you imagination, is whichever one you think in.
"Wow! We expected something special to happen today, but never this. Amazing."

"Expected something to happen? What do you mean? Who are 'we?'"
"Those of us who have pledged our allegiance to Jesus over Caesar."
"So you are a disciple of Jesus."
"Yes, I am."
"You said you were expecting something to happen. What did you mean?"

"It's just that as we counted the 49 days of the grain harvest we knew something was brewing. It was as if the spirit Jesus promised were being distilled in us.
"It all started at the close of Sabbath during Passover. We were devastated. The one to whom we had pledged our lives had been executed just two days before. Still it was time to engage in the Counting of the Omer (the 49 day ceremony of introspection and thanks that commences with an offering of a certain measure of barley). We felt as lowly as the livestock that eat the barley of the seven week harvest we would begin that day, but we gathered anyway in the upper room at the house of Gideon here in Jerusalem for the blessing of the Omer. The traditional blessing was made, 'Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with his commandments and commanded us to count the Omer.' However, the spirit of the season was not in us, at least not that night.
"The next morning the miraculous and unexpected happened. News soon came to us that Jesus, the Messiah, had risen! It was a harvest gift unmatched.
"Needless to say, we were now ecstatic. Those 40 days spent with the Master after the resurrection were like the coming of rain after a famine; or more in keeping with the season, like the answer to prayers for dew after the rain, so the barley can be harvested and the wheat can grow. But then he was gone again, and the revelry in our spirits went with him.
"I was there when he ascended. I heard the strange man and women who reminded us that we would see him again. Nevertheless, our sorrow for having lost him again, even under these best of circumstances, was palpable.

"Some remembered that he had told us to tarry together in Jerusalem for a while, so we decided to presume upon our friend Gideon's good graces once more. This time, however, it was not to mourn, but to hold fast for just a bit longer to the feelings of camaraderie we felt in each other's presence.
"In deference to that old adage about throwing guests out with the leftover fish, one might expect that Gideon's good graces and even our own tolerance for one another would shortly run thin; they did not. Each time a family was tempted to leave, Gideon deterred them with the most sincere expressions of gratitude for their remaining just a little while longer.

"As a poet, it was a most wondrous thing to witness. Being there inspired many a verse in me. It was like watching the creation of the garden in Eden. I saw why she has so often been referred to as a mother who opened her arms and gave of herself so freely, willingly for the sustenance of her children. Not only that, it was as if a grapevine with a multiplicity of branches and shoots that would typically run in disparate directions from one another or contend with one another as a tangled canopy competing for sunlight suddenly, mystically found itself pruned of selfish intent and began to bear the most cooperative, luscious fruit in nourishment to one another.
"Perhaps it had something to do with the character work we were doing in observance of the counting of the Omer. Instead of focusing mainly on good works, as is our custom, each day we would nurture the grains of others-interestedness within ourselves, as Jesus admonished. With this heart for others we embodied the way of he who washed the twelve's feet. As a result, each day saw increasingly more inspiring demonstrations of patience, joy, gentleness, meekness, self-control, peace, kindness, faithfulness, love.

"Then this morning we gathered for one last breakfast together. I sat in the window just soaking in the warmth of the spirit in the room. Jacob the formerly Self-Pitying (the one over there who walks with the limp) came into the courtyard with some more kindling. Peter the formerly Cowardly and John the formerly Self-Absorbed had just gotten back with a fresh portion of last night's catch. Mary the formerly Needy was showing some of the young ladies and young men how to kneed bread. Martha the formerly Busy—surprise, surprise—was sitting down talking with some of our newest friends. Hadai the formerly Lazy came back into the house with another pair of hot wheat loaves to set aside for each family's Shavuot offering of First Fruit. The dining room and the adjoining courtyard were filled with activity and vibrant energy.
"When all was prepared, we blessed the food and ate and savored every moment and morsel. In fact, the best of the meal was not the nourishment delivered to our stomachs but the grace of feasting on the fruit of each other's spirits. If this were the beauty, peace and good will afforded us in the kingdom of God, I dare say I would never tire of bearing witness to it. That which can produce joy out of sorrow, boldness out of timidity, comprehension out of babel is, indeed, a more excellent way than either the hardships of Roman occupation or the dubiousness of Jewish self-rule!"
"And in that moment it was as if the very heavens laughed and clapped for joy, creation witnessing the reincarnation of it's beloved. A mighty wind rushed through the house carrying with it the sweetness of spring that ignited the spirit in that room leaving in its wake a trail of flame, as if emanating from our heads. We became, as Jesus foretold, candles and torch lights to shine before men—even in the brightness of day—that all might see our good works and know that they originate with the One who calls us her own. We had been filled with the Spirit and confidence of God.

"We gathered up our loaves, two per family, and like the yeast that leavens them, we permeated the crowds that gathered here in front of the temple in hopes of sharing our joy on this day of thanksgiving. It was then that what you hear started to happen. As we joined in the festivities, members of our party began to speak with those around them, and what came out their mouths—or at least what was heard—was not the common language of Palestine, but languages particular to those with whom they were talking. Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans and Cappadocians, Asians, Egyptians, Libyans, Cyreneans, Cretans, Arabs and visitors from Rome—both native Jews and gentile converts—in their own languages they heard of God’s deeds of power. It's as if God were intent on the message of a kingdom greater than Caesar's being carried into all nations, even today, by the very Jews who have gathered here from all parts of the earth!"

"What an amazing story. If I had not heard it so beautifully put, I would have likely said the lot of you were filled with wine!"
"You might say we are. We are once old but now renewed wineskins, filled with the new wine of the Holy Spirit, ready to share with any who would also receive it."
"Well, how 'bout a drink! I'd love to hear more about this Jesus who inspires you with hope in the days of Caesar."
"Certainly. Let's have at it. All of you are welcome to come. Drinks all around!"

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