May the fire be in your thoughts
making them good and just
may it protect you from all harm
may the fire be in your eyes
may it open your eyes to see what is good in life
may it protect you from speaking against another.
May the fire be in your ears
we pray that you may hear with deep listening
so that you may hear the flow of water
and of all Creation and of the Dreaming.
May you be protected from gossip
and from those things that harm and break down your family.
May the fire be in your arms and hands
so that you may be of service and build up love.
May the fire protect you from all violence.
May the fire be in your whole being, in your legs and feet
enabling you to walk the earth with respect and care
so that you may journey in the ways of goodness and trust
and be protected from walking away from what is true.
Prayer used by Aboriginal people in the Kimberley region for 1000s of years
Reflections on the readings
In Laudato Si', Pope Francis tells us, "From the beginning of the world ... the mystery of Christ is at work ... in the natural world as a whole." The Psalmist sings, "How manifold are your works, O Lord!’ – that every being, every creature, all of creation reveal God’s very being. And we need to grow in our awareness of God's universal and inclusive presence. Is that awareness evident as peoples who have endured so-called institutional ’lockdowns,’ and despite fears and objections, we can hear the call by First Nations people for a Voice, or despite increasing acts of antisemitism, it is also challenged, and how the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ that justified a ’terra nullius’ mentality where Indigenous lands were expropriated, and ethnic groups forced to assimilate into a dominant culture, is finally repudiated by the Vatican.
Yet we still must lament the tendency to succumb to old fears of cultures different to our own. Pope Francis refers to this fear of people "from whom we must defend ourselves at all costs." This has been the case here in Australia and continues in the USA and many European countries vis a vis refugees. This applies in the ongoing provocations towards China. Francis warns and challenges in Fratelli Tutti, "Those who raise walls will end up as slaves within the very walls they have built. They are left without horizons, for they lack this interchange with others."
Jesus coming to the disciples and showing his wounds hardly looks like Pentecost. What a spoiler? There is no rush of a violent wind, no tongues of fire, speaking in other languages, and no one intoxicated by the Spirit excerpt for a story about locked doors, fear, wounds, peace, a shared breath, being sent? What does Jesus want us to see? I think that the open wounds hold the obesity of pain in our world. These wounds are the ones we have received and the ones we have inflicted on others. In Acts, the disciples after encountering Jesus over a period of 40 days, spending 10 days in prayer, the Spirit of God shook them out of all inertia, prompting them to assume the work they are meant for. ‘Christ comes to us and does not conceal his wounds but displays them in order to give us the courage to remove our armour, our masks, and our makeup and look not only at the wounds and scars that we conceal beneath them from others and often from ourselves but also at the wounds we have inflicted on others.’ (Tomas Halik, Touch the Wounds: On Suffering, Trust, and Transformation)
The Spirit in today’s gospel is not imparted by offering the ‘gift of tongues,’ but as forgiveness. This may have been shocking for the disciples. It is suggested that the shock was not that the person they took to be dead was alive, but he emerged from the darkness of torment at the hands of their enemies not as avenger but bringing forgiveness and urging that forgiveness be shared (Tomas Halik, Touch the Wounds: On Suffering, Trust, and Transformation). What a powerful message for all of us – individuals and communities unwilling to forget or forgive.
Pentecost began the long adventure of broadening horizons where the proclamation of the gospel to all peoples and cultures called for a broader outlook where we question so many of assumption under the guidance of the Spirit. Pope Francis says in Fratelli Tutti that we need to appreciate the unavoidable "and blessed awareness that we are all part of one another" and can "no longer think in terms of 'them' and 'those,' but only 'us.'" We are called to abandon our narrow and closed mentalities to recognise the many manifestations of the Spirit among us.
We must ask why one like Luke ignored or suppressed the outstanding witness of Mary Magdalene and other women at the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, as well as crucial role in the growth of the Church, which even Paul gives us a glimpse of in Romans 16. It is nothing new in the Church today. Elizabeth Johnson (Truly our Sister, 300) suggests that “Desiring to impress his readers in the Roman Empire with the trustworthiness of this new movement, Luke consistently depicted men in public leadership roles and, in order to conform with the empire’s standards, kept women decorously under control in supportive positions. Having eyes mainly for elite men, he fudged women into an insignificant background ignoring the leadership roles they in fact held……. Consequently, Acts does not contain a representative picture of church leadership in the early decades. It tells only part of the story.”
In a sense we could say that there is something ‘queer’ about the Spirit. It calls us to go beyond what is known, to move past what is established, and to relinquish control over structures that do not enhance life for all. Queer is ’by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant……’ (David Halperin, 1995). I have a sense that this move to go beyond what is known and to move past what is established is part of the call of the Spirit in our Synodal journey in the Church. The Spirit blows where she will and demolishes every institutional ’lockdown’ whether political or ecclesiastical. Where our leaders still talk about the need to get back to normal (after Covid-19), the Spirit suggests that the more abnormal the better. Normal suggests that we are individuals with what that suggests. Pope Francis continually reminds us that we are interconnected. The readings speak of human unity, mutual responsibility, and care of the most vulnerable. We are one despite our diversity and different social and geographical locations. It is the Spirit within all creation, all life, and all people that binds us as one. Without realising that we, and all living things, are one, peace is not possible. Pentecost needs to be a way of life, something lived out, every day, not annually.
The long list of peoples named in the Acts emphasises that everyone is included; that all are loved by God; and that the Holy Spirit moves the community from fear to fearlessness, from faltering to faith, from powerlessness to passionate power. We hear that God does not have favourites. Not true! God does have favourites. God has made a ‘preferential option.’ where the welfare of some must be put ahead of others. These preferred ones are the very ones who suffer most at the hands of the powerful with climate change, racism, pandemics, pollution, loss of diversity, poverty and other forms of inequality such as poor education and health care. These preferred ones are the victims of ‘empire’ and capitalism. We see where Jesus’ preferences lie when he shows us his wounds. Jesus says, ‘Whatever you do to the least in my family, you do to me’ (Matthew 25) whereby where he is – with the most vulnerable on our planet - and where we can touch him in our world. This challenges any attitudes that disregard the poor, children; and people of colour and strangers; and asylum seekers; and sexual and ethnic minorities as well as God’s creation.
What begins in that upper room must be completed in the streets. Taking to the streets requires living out the inclusiveness of the Spirit. When Jesus breathed the Spirit upon the disciples, they began to realise their responsibility to become agents of the new creation – as we are too – to be aware of incongruities, inequalities, and injustice in our community and bring forth justice and be life-giving which is not possible when we look to the heavens.
Jesus’ footprints are still on the earth – they now become ours. The Spirit comes in different places, different circumstances, and different people with fullness of life and healing. The words, filled with Spirit, were spoken from the margins of the Roman Empire. They continue to speak from the margins of our world. All in all, we are engaging in the practice of justice with words and actions to do with life, peace, freedom, where lies, cover-ups and denials prevail. The Jesus who comes with the wounds in his hands, feet and side reminds us that the Spirit will take us into those places of suffering in our world and that those places of suffering call forth from us our compassion and touch.