I admit it: I’ve become addicted to the countless quizzes that are on Facebook. If you haven’t seen them, or if you’re one of the lucky people who have not fallen under Facebook’s spell, let me describe them for you:
You can now take a simple quiz—5 or 10 questions—that will tell you: what color you are (are you violet or tangerine?), what character you are in numerous shows, what you were in a past life, what Greek god you are, what country you should live in, what animal you are, are you right-brained or left-brained, and many more quirks of your identity.
One intriguing quiz (which I did not take) was “What do your friends really think about you.” I was scared to take this one, because I was afraid they may have actually spoken to some of my friends…
The one that recently caught my eye was the one that said, “What two words describe you?” I was afraid I would get something like “hopelessly confused,” but I turned out alright.
It’s interesting…. Who knew, that in ten short, multiple choice questions, we can find out so much about ourselves? But, going a bit deeper, what I see is a deep urge in the culture to reflect on ourselves, to delve into some deeper aspect of our identity. The world around us tells us we are distracted, anxious, entertainment-addicted consumers…. Yet, we want to go deeper. As silly as these personality quizzes are, they are pointing at this interest to connect with a deeper aspect of our identity—and that, friends, invites us to explore the spiritual dimensions of our current circumstances.
The Feast of Pentecost is a time each year that invites us to reflect on the Presence and Activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and in the common life of the Church. We Christians are not strict monotheists. We don’t “just” believe there is a God, dwelling somewhere far out there in “the heavens”— maybe out beyond Neptune. And we do not just believe that Jesus was “God’s Son,” in the way that we have children. No, we are a Trinitarian people. Our deepest beliefs around God are found in a Trinitarian perspective: that the Creator brought all into being, everything that is “seen and unseen,” that Jesus Christ is “eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light,” and that the Holy Spirit is “the Lord, the giver of life,” as our Nicene Creed says.
“God” is a word that points toward the reality of this creative, redeeming, sustaining Presence in our lives. And, this “God” continues to invites us into spaces of deeper spiritual growth.
It seems to me that one of the greatest tendencies in the church today is that we focus so much on our institutional side. We have buildings, campuses, programs, staff, protocol, and all of these are absolutely crucial—indeed, they are all embodiments of our sacramental life together.
But what lies at the heart of what we do, of who we are?
Imagine yourselves, if you can, sitting there with the disciples in the room. Imagine what it was like to be there, after Jesus had risen from the tomb and after some of them had witnessed Jesus ascending into the clouds. What must they have thought? How did they imagine themselves continuing their lives? Did they feel alone?
And, then, it happened. “And suddenly there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each one of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”
Can you imagine? What must have they have thought, seeing the flames dancing above their heads—and feeling such Presence? More to the point, can you imagine the Presence of the Holy Spirit being present among us, within you, in such a dynamic way?
We often remember the Feast of Pentecost as being the church’s “birthday,” that event that initiated this new reality of the apostles’ common life together—infused with the Presence of the Holy Spirit as Jesus had promised.
And, it’s absolutely crucial to remind ourselves that, at the heart of the church’s birthday was a profound, shared mystical experience of the Divine that reframed the way they understood their identity. At the heart of our faith, therefore, is a core of profound mystical experience.
Thinking back on these quizzes we see all the time, I wonder what two words would have described the apostles:
We should ask ourselves, we should wonder, what has changed, in essence, from their day to our own?
Christ’s Spirit is still promised to us. The Holy Spirit is still a living force, a presence in our lives. We are, as it were, an “in-spired people.”
We remember this, we re-collect this, we re-center our awareness of this reality when we celebrate a baptism. We invoke the presence of the Holy Spirit in and through the water of baptism, and we anoint these three with oil, sealing them with the Holy Spirit “marked as Christ’s own forever.”
Now, just as then, there is a mystical experience that grounds our common life and initiates each one of us in our practice of faith.
These are not hollow words; they are not mere formalities of ritual and language. They are sacramental embodiments, “outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.”
This is our deepest identity. This is who we are, as a baptized people. As we mentioned in our parish’s working document after our Listening Circles, we are a people who hold up the process and reality of transformation as being at the heart of what we do as a spiritual community. In all that we do as a parish, we are invited to reflect on “Who was transformed through this experience?” Such language delves, intentionally, into the mystical.
So, I wonder, today…as we share together in this Sacrament of New Birth, how you are opening your heart to the Spirit’s Presence? How are you leaning in to new spaces of transformation? How are you being challenged to go a bit deeper in your own reflection on your identity? How is God calling you to new spaces of Grace?
And, if we could take a quiz that was grounded in this depth of our spiritual identity, in our common relationship as God’s children, as the Brothers and Sisters of Christ, as those who are in-spired by the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life…what two words best describe you?
Maybe it’s “God’s Beloved.”
The Rev. Stuart Craig Higginbotham | The Feast of Pentecost, Year A
Acts 2:1-21; I Corinthians 12:3b-13 | June 8, 2014