Acts 2:1-4; John 20:19-23
After living for many years in the East Asian and South Asian cultures, I have been privileged to visit and experience African people and culture. This picture from JESUS MAFA, a Christian community in Cameroon, Africa is an exuberant burst of joy, depicting their interpretation of the Acts 2 story.
This Sunday we celebrate Pentecost, the universal church celebration of the filling of the Holy Spirit among the followers of Jesus Christ, fifty days after his Resurrection. With a burst of joy and power, the emptiness and disconnection of Jesus’ Ascension into heaven was filled with Divine Presence: “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly, there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:1-4a
My spiritual director asked me to talk about what I have noticed about myself during this pandemic season. My big observation was that I have experienced more noticeably defined highs and lows, where normally I would fall mostly in the middle of the emotional scale. In the morning I would experience a burst of joy when interacting with my students online, and then later in the day, a deep sadness would hover over me.
Honestly, I think it related to my sense of “connectedness” to God and people or the lack thereof, which sometimes resulted in empty separation. Unlike the disciples at Pentecost, we have been unable to “be all together in one place.” Yet, imagine the range of emotions the followers of Jesus experienced in just two months from entering Jerusalem, the arrest and murder of their Lord, seeing the resurrected Jesus, and then watching him leave as he ascended into heaven.
Knowing the uncertainty and despair of separation, Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection. He came through barriers of walls, locked doors, and fearful emotional states to stand among them bringing peaceful presence. Jesus said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you…Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” John 20:19-23
Pentecost has come at a good time to remind me of the “connectedness” of the Spirit dwelling in us as a promise of help, comfort, truth, and joy. As Jesus said in John 16, it is to our advantage that he left the world physically so that God’s Spirit could set us free to worship and serve as a universal body of followers. We are not confined to one room, but to be everywhere bringing peace and freedom as we forgive and love in Christ’s name.
PRACTICE. I invite you to spend some time in “Visio Divina,” or divine seeing, with a contemplative look at the Jesus MAFA Pentecost scene. Before you begin, take a few moments to open your heart and mind to God’s Spirit. Begin with a simple prayer of intention: “Come Holy Spirit.”
- FIRST LOOK. Scan the image and notice the very first thing that catches your eye. Keep your focus there without wandering to other parts of the picture. What has attracted your eye to this detail?
- SECOND LOOK. Reflect on the image at a contemplative pace. Take your time and allow yourself to be drawn into the story. Explore the entire image and stop and look at each person, their facial expression, body language, and position in the room. What different responses to the Spirit does the artist convey?
- THIRD LOOK. Imagine yourself in the story. What response would be expressed on your face? What emotions are stirred up in you? How does your body feel? Where are your hands?
- REFLECTION. Explore more fully the meanings that come to you. How does the image reflect or change your understanding of the story? In several minutes of meditation, close your eyes and repeat the prayer, “Come Holy Spirit.” Bring your prayer to a close by resting in God’s joyful presence.