Don’t Take Pentecost So Literally


I was born and raised in California where Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Francisco are prominent cities. Rivers flowing within the state’s borders include the San Joaquin and Merced. The Golden State is famous for the El Camino Real, the wandering trail linking the twenty-one Roman Catholic missions founded by Father Junípero Serra between 1769-1823.

History proclaims a lesson in Spanish nearly everywhere in California. I went to school by Sacramento, the town of the sacrament. My grandparents owned a farm near the Merced River, the river of mercy. In elementary school, learning Spanish was required. Though not as extensive as the proverbial 3 Rs of reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic, we studied the language of Father Serra and those famous missions.

I was lousy at Spanish, even after escaping the elementary years. At most, I can count to ten:  uno, dos, trace, cuatro, cinco . . . Continue reading →

On Pentecost: Windy Words Aflame

Acts 2:1-21 – Pentecost Sunday – for Sunday, June 4, 2017

“When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place . . .” (Acts 2:1)

At Pentecost, pronouncing the countries “from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem” is always a challenge!

The Parthians and Medes aren’t terrible.

Cappadocia and Pontus represent more of a struggle.

With Phrygia and Pamphylia, my brain and mouth are hurting.

Whenever scanning the list of “every nation,” I wonder about the absence of the Han Dynasty in China or the Mayans in Central America. However “every nation under heaven” is defined, there were regions and languages from that long-ago first century world that never made Pentecost’s first team in the Acts of the Apostles.

But there was wind. There were flames. Those central images of God’s Spirit transcend the parochial, inadequate, and contradictory ways of words.

Wind is universal.

A summer breeze brings us together; a hurricane tears us apart. God’s Spirit soothes and roars, and no matter the language, it can be discovered in the clacking of branches or the whisper of lovers. We are, whether claiming old Pamphylia or new California as home, buffeted by winds from the balmy ocean or chilly arctic. We lean into the breeze, irritated or inspired by its persistence. It’s easy to understand why Jesus’ first followers identified the gifts (and burdens) of God’s Spirit as if a rush of wind.

Wind demands attention.

Once my wife Jeanie and I camped at Hart Lake in Yosemite’s backcountry. Though using a well-trod path for much of the trip, the last stretch to Hart was off trail and rarely explored. We settled at the sapphire lake, with no other backpackers arriving as day welcomed night. After quiet chatter around a small fire (ah those dancing, spirited flames!) and stunned gazing into the endless array of stars (more flames), we retreated to our tent. Both of us awoke a little later. Why? Something was . . . Continue reading →

Pentecost’s Aural Lessons

Acts 2:1-21Pentecost – for Sunday, May 15, 2016

“Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting.” (Acts 2:2)

Illustration by Jessamyn Jade Rubio*
Illustration by Jessamyn Jade Rubio*

We were hunkered in a Wisconsin basement, watching water gush through the edges of a closed window. A summer storm raged, its straight-line winds** later calculated at 100mph. No tornado ever developed, but the brief ferocity caused destruction across our region. While the rain penetrating every miniscule fissure and flaw in the window’s frame was unnerving, the outside sound seemed worse.

The wind mimicked the proverbial roar of a freight train. It was as if individual cracks of thunder coalesced into a steady, unrelenting blur of noise. Louder became louder became louder.

The storm rampaged past our rented condo and neighborhood. Suddenly the basement filled with an eerie, startling . . .


My wife and I had scooped up our two cats with surprising ease in anticipation of the storm. Now they nervously meowed from a basement corner. Like us, maybe they wondered it there’d be more, and worse, in the next seconds.

It was over.

But I kept hearing the seconds-that-felt-like-hours roar, as if all creatures in creation were screaming at the top of their lungs.

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In the Acts of the Apostles, when Jesus’ disciples were more a band of uncertain stragglers, it was sound that first announced their shift into a community of faith seeking to transform the world.

Pentecost may be the least of the major celebrations in the Christian church, a shy sister compared to its brash and flashy Christmas and Easter siblings, but it helps recall an inexplicable, extraordinary event. Continue reading →