On Sunday we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. In John 20:19-23 we read that the disciples were gathered together, huddled in fear, hiding in an out of the way place, confused and bewildered about all that had occurred in the recent days. They were no doubt still distraught about the death of Jesus; and confused about several experiences when Jesus seemed somehow to be with them. They feared that they, as followers of him, would be killed by the Romans, as indeed many of them eventually were. They were not filled with peace, or courage, or faith, or hope. They were anxious, confused and hopeless, as we all sometimes are.
And then, something happened. They experienced something. We aren't really sure what they experienced. The story passed down to us is vague regarding many details. But, it is clear that they experienced something significant. It was like a “strong driving wind which filled the entire house,” and like “tongues of fire which parted and came to rest on each of them.” They experienced the divine presence; they were “filled with the Holy Spirit.” It was at the same time a very personal, individual experience, and a profound communal experience.
Shortly after this they left the upper room and began boldly talking about and witnessing to their experiences. They began to change their way of living to be more consistent with the message and example of Jesus. Whatever happened in that upper room had a lasting impact upon them. They were permanently changed; they were transformed. Where once they were terrified and inhibited, now they were bold and courageous; where once they felt deserted and defeated, now they felt sustained and emboldened. They began to exude an energy, a confidence, a courage, a boldness that they previously lacked.
Some regard Pentecost as significant because it represents the “birth” of Christianity. Some regard Pentecost as significant because it is the fulfillment of Jesus' promise to “Send the Spirit to be with you.” Some regard Pentecost as significant because it represents the empowering and commissioning of Christ followers to spread the Gospel of Christ to all people. Yet, it all began with an experience; a divine visitation; an experience of the holy filling, healing and transforming timid, frightened, people. It was an experience that they did not expect, could not anticipate, did not plan and could not control.
And, so it is with us. We, too, have experiences of the divine. We are each having experiences of the holy every day. Spiritual writers often comment that the divine is all around us, and within us, at every moment; yet, we are often inattentive to the divine. My tradition teaches that the holy dwells within each one of us; that we are each a temple, a living place of the holy presence, the Holy Spirit. This is not a theory, but a lived reality, a lived experience. The mystics among us testify to this, and all of us have occasional, momentary glimpses of this reality. We may encounter the holy when we encounter each other; and in nature; and in the depths of our own being. These experiences often come in unexpected ways, in ways that we do not plan and cannot control. They occasionally come in dramatic fashion, like “a strong driving wind” or “tongues of fire;” but more commonly these experiences are more subtle. And, since we do not expect them, we are often not looking for them, and perhaps don't recognize them when they occur.
Perhaps Pentecost can be more significant for us this year than in past years; perhaps it can be for us an opportunity to become more aware of and attuned to how we experience the holy. What have been your moments of divine visitation? What are the times, the situations, the ways in which you experience the presence of God? What is that like for you? Is it like a strong driving wind, or a gentle breeze? Is it like tongues of fire, or a serene sunset? Is it like a solitary walk in a peaceful forest, or a loud, energetic dance among friends? What can you do in your daily life to become more aware of these experiences, and more receptive to letting them “sink in”? How can you make time, and space, to become more reflective about the ways that the Spirit is in you, and with you, and among us? Let us pray for the outpouring of the Spirit in our lives and our relationships. And, let us be receptive to the Spirit transforming us, sustaining us, and encouraging us.
Rev. Thomas Altepeter is an Ecumenical Catholic priest and pastor of St. Clare Ecumenical Catholic Community in Spokane.
He is also a licensed psychologist and has previously served as pastor of an ECC community in Wisconsin, been employed as a university professor, served as a director of a large behavioral health department, and worked in private practice as a psychologist.