I first encountered the work of Welsh Catholic artist James Keay-Bright last year at the 8th Catholic Arts Biennial at the Verostko Center for the Arts at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where his Trinity Redemption painting was among the juried selections.
It shows God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit standing one behind the other against a black background, facing forward. They are semi-encompassed by a wave of fire that emanates from the foreground figure’s outstretched hand. Vigorous and bright, it swells up and around the trio, its branching tip reaching like arms into the darkness.
The young African man in front represents the Holy Spirit sending forth his presence, Keay-Bright told me. (The illumination of his face is wonderful!) Jesus Christ is shown as a Middle Eastern boy of about eight years old, while God the Father is modeled after an elderly Aboriginal Australian.
Unable to withstand the tidal wave of divine light, evil retreats into the shadows, symbolized by the satanic figure at the left.
In the Old Testament, fire often signifies the presence of God, as when Moses encounters God in the burning bush (Exod. 3:2), or as with the pillar of fire that leads the Israelites through the wilderness (Exod. 13:21).
In the New Testament, in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit descends like fire on the people who are gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. This “fire” ignites faith and has a sanctifying effect—purifying us of sin, making us holy.
Last Sunday the church celebrated the Spirit’s historic descent, and this Sunday is marked in liturgical calendars as Trinity Sunday. One of the scripture readings in the Revised Common Lectionary comes from Romans 5: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. . . . And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (vv. 1–2, 5). This passage describes the combined activity of the Triune God in bringing about salvation.
Commenting on his painting, Keay-Bright told me, “It’s about cycles of redemption. We respond to God’s call but then fall away. But we can always come back.” God’s “spirit and grace” are constantly extended to us, he says. The fire of divine love is always going out, sweeping through the world to reclaim and restore.
Keay-Bright is interested in non-Caucasian representations of biblical figures. That desire has sprung in part from his international humanitarian work, in which he has encountered the sacred through people of various races and ethnicities. He has worked with refugees in the Balkans, Uganda, and Algeria—first through an NGO and later through the UN Refugee Agency. This month he is traveling to Rwanda to serve refugees from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
As Luke records in Acts 2, ten days after Jesus ascended to heaven, during the feast of Shavuot, the Holy Spirit manifested as “tongues of fire” and descended on Jesus’s apostles, filling them with power before the multitudes that had gathered. Peter preaches this as a fulfillment of the prophet Joel: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams . . .” (Acts 2:17; cf. Joel 2:28).
As geographically and linguistically diverse pilgrims embraced the good news of Christ that day and carried it back to their homes, God’s Spirit spread throughout the ancient Near East and from there to other parts of the world, such that Christianity is the most global and multicultural religion. The fire that fell that one Sunday in Jerusalem has spread exponentially! First it caught the Twelve, and then some three thousand witnesses, and it’s been burning ever since.
Consider this untitled poem by Theodore Roszak*:
Unless the eye catch fire The God will not be seen Unless the ear catch fire The God will not be heard Unless the tongue catch fire The God will not be named Unless the heart catch fire The God will not be loved Unless the mind catch fire The God will not be known
In it the physical senses are ignited, as are the emotions and the intellect. The whole person—body, spirit, and soul—is set on fire. Sounds Pentecostal, no? With echoes of Moses’s meeting God in a burning bush on Mount Horeb (Exod. 2), as revelation is key.
Slowly read each of the five couplets, one at a time, considering how God makes himself known through that faculty. Ponder what it means for the eye to “catch fire,” the ear to catch fire, and so on. What does that image evoke?
Fire shows up a lot in the work of Indian Christian artist Jyoti Sahi, as in his painting Holding the Flame of Fire, which shows a pair of hands cradling a flame that fans out in bright oranges and yellows, forming a mandala (Sanskrit “circle”). Perhaps you see licking tongues, or dove’s wings, or I AM calling out from a blazing shrub.
This painting was inspired by aarti, a ritual expression of love and gratitude to a deity that originated and is widely practiced in Hinduism but that has been adapted by some Christians in South India. (Sahi demonstrated it to me in a Christian chapel in Bengaluru when I visited him a few years ago.) A lit oil or ghee lamp is placed on a tray, Sahi explains, “where different offerings are arranged representing the senses, such as flowers related to sight, incense sticks in relation to smell, water and fruit in a bowl in relation to taste, and earth and ash in relation to touch.” The priest or householder waves the tray in a clockwise motion, then brings it around from person to person, each of whom cups the flame with their hands and then touches their forehead, seeking divine blessing. Aarti is often accompanied by singing and can be performed at home or in public places of worship.
How awesome is it that the Spirit of God, the living flame, moves among us—even abides within us! The Spirit stirs, illuminates, regenerates, sanctifies, guides, comforts, intercedes, and empowers. What a gift.
* Note on authorship: This poem appears in Where the Wasteland Ends: Politics and Transcendence in Postindustrial Society by Theodore Roszak (Doubleday, 1972) as the epigraph to chapter 9, “Mind on Fire: Notes on Three Old Poets.” While Roszak provides attributions for all the other epigraphs in the book, he does not for this one, leading me to believe that the verse either originated with him or is from an unknown source. It is often misattributed to William Blake—probably because Roszak’s chapter focuses on Blake, in addition to Wordsworth and Goethe—but I confirmed with multiple Blake scholars that these lines are not Blake’s. P. K. Page wrote a short story in 1979 titled “Unless the Eye Catch Fire,” citing Roszak as the title’s source.
SONGS: The Holy Spirit Prayer is a traditional Catholic prayer that’s sung at Mass on the feast of Pentecost: “Come, Holy Spirit; fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth. O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy his consolations, through Christ our Lord. Amen.” The following two songs are settings of the first part of this prayer.
>> “Kindle in Us Your Love” by Deanna Witkowski: This funky refrain by jazz composer Deanna Witkowski “works well as a gospel acclamation, prayer response, or opening song,” especially for Pentecost. I’m planning to introduce it to my Presbyterian congregation this Sunday. (For church services, Witkowski charges a licensing fee of just $3 per use.) You can purchase the piano score here; it also appears in the Voices Together hymnal. Hear a high school choir perform the piece in the video below, with Witkowski accompanying on keys.
Come, Holy Spirit Kindle in us the fire of your love Come, Holy Spirit Kindle in us your love
>> “Holy Spirit, Come to Us” by Jacques Berthier (Taizé chant):Taizé is an ecumenical Christian monastic community in France comprising more than one hundred Catholic and Protestant brothers from some thirty different countries. They welcome in around a hundred thousand young pilgrims a year, who come for prayer, Bible study, and communal work and worship. The songs of Taizé use simple musical phrases and few words that are repeated. Composed in 1998, “Holy Spirit, Come to Us” is one of 232 songs Jacques Berthier wrote for Taizé. It consists of solo verses sung by a leader over an ostinato refrain sung by the people.
Holy Spirit, come to us Kindle in us the fire of your love Holy Spirit, come to us Holy Spirit, come to us
Jesus said, “It is by your love for one another That everyone will recognize you as my disciples.”
Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this: To lay down one’s life for those one loves.”
We know love by this, That Christ laid down his life for us.
This is love: it is not we who have loved God But God who loved us.
Taizé songs may be sung in public worship settings free of charge, provided their simplicity is preserved (i.e., no elaborate arrangements are permitted); for other uses, see here.
DIGITAL DOWNLOAD: Pentecost Party: Word & Wonder is offering a free twelve-page PDF of resources for celebrating Pentecost with children. Besides a list of party ideas, it includes an imaginative retelling of the Pentecost story from the perspective of a child, a prayer guide, prompts for talking about the Holy Spirit, coloring pages, and a pinwheel craft. On their website you will also find other family-friendly resources for the church year. [HT: Global Christian Worship]
BLOG POST: “Whitsun Week” by Eleanor Parker: “The week following Pentecost is a lost holiday. From the Middle Ages until the early 20th century the period around Whitsun was the principal summer holiday of the year – especially Whit-Monday”—which is June 6 this year. “It was the time for fairs, Morris dancing, games, ale-drinking, school and church processions, weddings, wandering into the countryside, and generally having a good time.” Gooseberries and cheesecakes were broken out for the occasion, and communities engaged in fun activities like cricket, archery, sack races, and donkey derbies.
British medievalist Eleanor Parker compiles several sources that describe the Whitsuntide festivities of medieval western Europe and calls her readers to revive the week’s outdoor merrymaking!
SHORT FILM: Stickmatch: Created in 2020 by London-born animator William Crook, this twenty-second stop-motion animation uses autumn leaves to simulate flames. [HT: Colossal]
Laura Makabresku is the artist pseudonym of Kamila Kansy, whose photographs are inspired by dreams, fairy tales, and the Christian story. Surreal and spiritual, her body of work moves me immensely. It’s so poetic. Divine and human love and suffering are recurring themes, and animals—doves, crows, deer, lambs, foxes—often appear. Follow her on Instagram @lauramakabresku and on Facebook.
Lessons of Hearing shows a young woman alone in a shadowy domestic space, listening intently to the Spirit. A crucifix and an icon of the Virgin and Child hang above her on the wall. A limited edition of this photograph is available for sale—signed, numbered, printed on archival Hahnemühle Baryta paper, and framed. Contact the artist if interested.
LISTEN: “Bring Forth” | Words by John Ernest Bode, 1869, with adaptations and refrain by Ben Thomas, 2015 | Music by Ben Thomas, 2015 | Album: Bring Forth
O Jesus, I have promised To serve thee to the end; Open my eyes within To see your everlasting hand. I shall not fear the struggle If thou art by my side, Nor wander from the pathway If you will be my guide.
[Refrain] Bring forth the truth and beauty Embedded deep inside. Breathe life in every moment. You will not leave my side.
O let me hear thee speaking In accents clear and still, Above the storms of trials, The murmurs of self-will. O speak to reassure me, Strengthen and make me whole; O speak, and let me listen, Creator of my soul.
[Bridge] Bring forth the beauty (×8)
O Jesus, I have promised To serve thee to the end.
Edicam pulchritudine (×8)
This song is about coming home to who we were created to be—good and beautiful, reflections of our Maker. Sadly, sin often leads us away from home, and God’s image that we bear becomes marred. But Christ walks alongside us, calling forth our truest selves, reminding us that we are God’s beloved. We have been redeemed, made alive by God’s Spirit, and are being sanctified. God is bringing forth the beauty he embedded in us at creation.
The speaker of the song seeks Christ’s guidance, illumination, strength, and wholeness. He prays for the ability to discern God’s voice above all the voices of this world that try to tell us we are less than, or that only such and such will satisfy us. And he prays for the will to obey. His desire is that he be animated moment by moment by the Holy Spirit (see Romans 8).
The last line, which I take to be in God’s voice, is Latin for “I will bring forth the beauty.”
When I was at the Museum Catharijneconvent in Utrecht, Netherlands, in 2019, one of the standout pieces I saw was an early fifteenth-century altarpiece from the Middle Rhine region of Germany. The central section, which I imagine would have been a sculpted Crucifixion scene, has been lost, and the surviving panels are arranged in a modern frame.
Ten panels depicting eight scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary decorate what would have originally been the interior wings—that is, visible when the altarpiece was open.
I’ll describe the first four, as they’re my favorites.
All photos in this post are from the museum’s website, which courteously provides them in high resolution under an open-access policy, promoting scholarship and digital engagement. The Annunciation image is a composite I made from two separate photos.
In the Annunciation, Mary sits in her bedroom beside a window in front of an open pink chest (her dowry chest?), quietly reading the scriptures, when the angel Gabriel slips in through an open door, holding a banderole that bears his greeting: Ave gratia plena d[omi]n[u]s tecum (“Hail, favored one, the Lord is with you,” Luke 1:28). He then goes on to tell her that she has been chosen to bear God’s Son into the world.
What will Mary say? Four little angels look on in eager anticipation from a tower in the panel above, while in the room two angels already start rolling out the royal treatment, holding up a gilt-brocaded velvet “cloth of honor” behind the young maiden in recognition of her high calling.
A thin column divides Gabriel’s space from Mary’s, creating a sense of threshold. It marks a boundary that is about to be crossed. The separation between God and humanity will be broken down by the Incarnation.
Mary ultimately responds to the surprise invitation with acceptance: Ecce ancilla d[omi]ni fiat michi s[e]c[un]d[u]m verbu[m] t[uu]m (“Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word,” Luke 1:38).
Mary’s yes triggers the release of a thick stream of light—it looks to me like a golden conveyor belt!—from the heart of God the Father, who is peering down through an upper window. Riding that stream is a haloed dove (the Holy Spirit) followed by a tiny yet fully formed infant Christ who’s holding a cross and headed straight toward Mary’s womb.
The homunculus (“little human”) motif in Annunciation images, though relatively rare, always makes me chuckle. It’s one way artists came up with to visualize the unvisualizable mystery of Christ’s conception, one that includes the Second Person of the Trinity as an actor in the event and shows a very literal descent. Not long after the motif started appearing in the fourteenth century, it was disapproved of by theologians, such as Antoninus of Florence and Molanus, and it was finally banned in the eighteenth century by Pope Benedict XIV as being heretical, since it suggests that Jesus did not take his body from Mary.
For brief commentary on this particular scene by Msgr. Herman Woorts, a Dutch art historian and an auxiliary bishop in the Roman Catholic Church, see this video produced by Katholiekleven.nl:
(To translate the Dutch into your language, click the “CC” button on the player, then the cog icon, and select Subtitles→Auto-translate.)
In the Visitation panel, Jesus and John the Baptizer are visible in their mothers’ wombs, each encased in a mandorla (almond-shaped aureole). This visual device of showing the cousins in utero was not uncommon at the time, especially in the Low Countries; art historian Matthew J. Milliner amusingly calls it “ultrasound Jesus”! Here you can actually see little John kneeling before his cousin in adoration.
Elizabeth has emerged from a door at the right, whose frame is labeled “Civitas Juda,” City of Judah (and notice the dog in the doorway! a traditional symbol of faithfulness). As she and Mary embrace each other in celebration of their miraculous pregnancies and imminent salvation, scrolls unfurl with their words from the Gospel of Luke: Et unde michi hoc q[uo]d mater d[omi]ni mei venit ad me (“And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Luke 1:43), at right, and at left, Magnificat a[n]i[m]a mea d[omi]n[u]m. Et exultavit sp[iritu]s meus i[n] deo salutalutari (sic) meo (“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” Luke 1:46–47). The scrolls provide a delicate, wing-like framing around the two women.
And at their head, in the center, an open-beaked dove descends, signifying the Holy Spirit—an extremely rare appearance in Visitation images. This is God breathing on his daughters, blessing their ministries, receiving their praise. Like the prophets of old, they are filled with God’s power and truth spills forth from their lips.
At their feet flows a spring of water, a possible allusion to Isaiah 35:6b–7a: “waters shall break forth in the wilderness, / and streams in the desert; / the burning sand shall become a pool, / and the thirsty ground springs of water.” Not to mention the Living Water that is Christ (see John 4).
Another charming detail of this panel is the angels, with their wispy red wings, peeking in at this intimate moment from behind rocks. I’m reminded of the epistle of 1 Peter, whose author says that the mysteries of salvation are “things into which angels long to look!” (1:12). Here they seem to whisper their song that will be exclaimed at full blast on the night of Jesus’s birth: Gloria in exelsis deo (“Glory to God in the highest,” Luke 2:14).
Poor Joseph is often overlooked as a player in the Christmas story, and yet he, too, faithfully responded to a (quite terrifying!) divine calling: to be the adoptive father of Jesus, raising him as his own. Though he initially had doubts about Mary’s story of supernatural conception—who wouldn’t?—an angel set him straight, and he ultimately acted in love and loyalty to Mary, and to God. He was an advocate and a provider for his family, looking out for their best interests all along the way.
I mention this because the Middle Rhine Altarpiece shows an actively caring and resourceful Joseph at the Nativity, cooking porridge over an open fire to nourish his hungry and tired wife, who reclines on a rollout mat with her newborn.
Also, notice that his left foot is bare. A legend of unknown origin says that Joseph removed his stockings (German hosen) following Jesus’s birth, cutting them into strips in order to swaddle the child. This narrative detail appealed to popular imagination and was referred to in stories, poems, songs, and the visual arts from the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries in the Netherlands and the Rhineland. At the time this altarpiece was made there was even a venerated relic at Aachen Cathedral purported to be the stockings-turned-swaddling bands.
As had become standard in images of the Nativity, this one includes an ox and an ass. The canonical Gospels don’t mention any animals at the birth—though the mention of a manger in Luke 2:7 implies an animal presence. The seventh-century Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew specifically names the ox and ass, citing their supposed adoration of the Christ child as a fulfillment of an Old Testament “prophecy”: “And on the third day after the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, the most blessed Mary went forth out of the cave, and entering a stable, placed the child in the stall, and the ox and the ass adored Him. Then was fulfilled that which was said by Isaiah the prophet, saying: The ox knows his owner, and the ass his master’s crib (Isa. 1:3).” These two domestic animals are also mentioned in the Nativity account that appears in the Golden Legend, an immensely popular text from the thirteenth century.
Here the ox is nose-deep in straw, while the ass looks up with his mouth agape. Perhaps he’s excited at having just spotted the Spirit-dove under the rafters.
The shepherds are about to arrive at the stable, as in the right background the birth is announced to them. The scroll held by the angel reads, Evanglizo vob[is] gaudi[um] magnu[m] (“I proclaim great joy to you,” Luke 2:10), and above the shepherd is the inscription Transeamu[s] us[que] Betleem (“Let’s go to Bethlehem,” Luke 2:15).
The Adoration of the Magi
In the Adoration of the Magi panel, Mary holds the Christ child on her lap, who is nude save for a thin diaphanous drape, emphasizing his full humanity. She wears a crown, alluding to her identity (in Catholic tradition) as Queen of Heaven. As in the Annunciation, she’s backed by a cloth of honor, which Joseph pulls aside to see what new visitors have come calling. And again, the ever-present Holy Spirit hovers above!
The pointing angel at the top, with the aid of a star, has directed three magi, portrayed here as kings, from their far-off homelands to the Christ child. Ite in iudeam ubi / nascit rex iudeor[um] (“Go to Judea where the king of the Jews was born”), he says.
Having cast his crown at the child’s feet, one of the magi kneels down and kisses the hand of the King of kings. He presents a container of gold coins as tribute, which Jesus rifles through with curiosity (ooo, shiny!).
Two other magi stand behind with their gifts of frankincense and myrrh. One of them, whom tradition calls Balthazar, is African. In the eighth century the historian Bede described Balthazar as having a “black complexion,” and from around 1400 onward he came to be portrayed that way in art, reflecting the growing visibility of other races in Europe.
Just to give you a full picture of the altarpiece as a whole . . .
So all together, the altarpiece would have told the gospel story from Christ’s conception and birth to the Crucifixion to the Resurrection and Ascension to Pentecost. And it would have served as the backdrop to the celebration of the Eucharist, spiritually forming parishioners week after week.
Art museums are full of such treasures as these. I encourage you to visit one of your local museums (or maybe take a weekend trip to one), find a piece of historical art that intrigues you, and sit with it for at least ten minutes. What do you notice? What is strange to you? What makes you smile? What was the object’s original context? What lineages is it a part of (e.g., what communities has it passed through, what iconographies or textual traditions does it draw from and develop, etc.)? What theological ideas, if any, does it express?
If you struggle to meaningfully engage with an artwork, I’m sure a docent would love to help you.
You might also take a photo of the artwork and share it on your social media. Ask your friends what stands out to them.
“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled” (Luke 12:49).
In the churches in which many of us were raised, we were taught to live in fear of this fire of God.
We are not going to repeat that lie. The ancient Christians show us a better way of perceiving this divine fire as we encounter it in the Scriptures and in our experiences.
I want the children listening to me today to know and trust they can welcome and embrace the fire of God, that there is no reason to live in terror about the fire that has come from God, is coming even now, and will come at the end of time.
We welcome the fire of God because we know the character of the God who meets us in the flesh of Jesus Christ.
This God comes among us not to destroy humanity but to burn everything out of us that is not of love, that does not have its origin in the divine life.
Like all healing, deliverance, and reconciliation, there is pain involved in being set free and made well. It is not easy. It is not a cake walk.
But here is the good news: we are free from anxiety and fear as we embrace the cleansing fire of God. “With its fire, love makes better whatever it touches” (Ambrose).
We became cold in our self-imposed exile from God, and like any object, the further it gets away from the fiery source of its life, the colder it becomes.
Remember that God makes his ministers flames of fire, that we shine like the sun in the kingdom of heaven.
Remember that Cleopas, later in Luke, describes that their “hearts burned within them” as Jesus taught them from the Scriptures.
Remember at Pentecost that flames of fire come to rest on the heads of the gathered men and women.
As John promised, Christ baptizes us with fire and the Spirit.
For Cyril of Jerusalem, these words of Jesus about casting fire upon the earth find their fulfillment at Pentecost.
Remember that the flames of the fiery furnace do not consume the Hebrew children, but the angel—Christ himself—stands with them in scorching flames and they emerge from the fire unharmed.
Remember that the burning bush is aflame, is entirely engulfed, but never consumed by the fire of God.
So it is with us: the fire of the love that is the Spirit of God—Ambrose describes this fire of love as having wings—flies through us, consuming whatever is not of Love and trying whatever is good in us in order to purify the good and make it ready for the kingdom.
And we can trust this fire because it comes from the human who is God, who has journeyed through death and hell to bring us back alive with him.
We walk confidently into the fire that is God, knowing that his fire will keep us unto everlasting life.
Kenneth Tanner is the pastor of Church of the Holy Redeemer in Rochester Hills, Michigan, and a contributing writer for Mockingbird, Sojourners, Clarion Journal, and more. He frequently posts theological reflections and sermon excerpts on Facebook, such as the one above [source], which he preached August 18, 2019, the tenth Sunday after Pentecost. I’ve reposted it here with his permission. The liturgical quilt is by fiber artist Linda S. Schmidt.
This call-and-response song is from the December 31, 2015, morning session of the Urbana student missions conference in St. Louis, Missouri. It’s performed by the University of Hawaii’s Hui Poly student group, a ministry of InterVarsity Hawai‘i geared toward Pasifika Christians, along with some new conference friends. The song (and ministry) leader is Moanike’ala Nanod-Sitch, who establishes the rhythm on the djembe and issues the calls. She is the pastor of Ka ‘Ohana o ke Aloha church in Kaneohe and is of Native Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, and Ukrainian descent.
The first half of the song is in English (lyrics below), but starting at 3:51, the singers launch into seven different Polynesian or Native American languages: Yup’ik, ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i (Hawaiian), Fijan, Tongan, Samoan, Hawaiian Pidgin, and Lakota. Subtitles are included in the video. There’s also dancing!
Holy Spirit, come (Holy Spirit, come) Won’t you rain down (Rain down) Rain down (Rain down)
Come like fiyah, come like flames Come like thundah, come like rain Won’t you rain down (Rain down) Rain down (Rain down)
Fill us up, fill our cup Fill us up, fill our cup Won’t you rain down (Rain down) Rain down (Rain down)
We want more, we want more We want more, we want more Won’t you rain down (Rain down) Rain down (Rain down)
Till we overflow Till we overflow Won’t you rain down (Rain down) Rain down (Rain down)
The Son of righteousness will rise With healing in his wings We will be free And dance before our king Let your kingdom come And let your will be done Here on earth as it is In heaven (In heaven) In heaven (In heaven)
We will walk in your love As we advance your kingdom Bringing your word To every nation Let your kingdom come And let your will be done Here on earth as it is In heaven (In heaven) In heaven (In heaven)
Glossolalic and disincarnate, interfere
in me, interleave me
and leave me through my breathing: like some third
person conjugation I’ve rewhispered
in a language I keep trying to learn, a tongue
made only of verbs, and all its verbs irregular.
Because doves have no gall bladder
they have come
to stand for mildness. They stand
for You, warble, blue
underwing-flash and quaver, con-
Squab of the Holy Ghost.
Some Ark’s scraping some
mud-ridged, just-dried Ararat now
inside me, some dove’s
dropped an olive sprig on its bow, meant to stand
once more for the passing of the gall.
Through “spiration” and not “generation” You are said
to proceed, but the question of Who ex-pires You—
Father or Son, or both—has led to a thousand years of anathema and schism.
The Wikipedia on just that question goes twenty pages.
Ungenerative, ungenerated, You’re like me: recessive and proceeding nonetheless, like the wick’s
wax-wet and sizzle as it hardens into self-douse.
Fricative, constrictive, like a gush
of burnt scrapwood smoke from a neighbor’s yard,
its wintercleared thornbushes and rattlesticks in firepit,
greencrackle and sap-hiss, late March Lent-smoke
ash-smack in back of tongue and eyes, forehead-and-cheek stream of char.
Numinous, pneumatic, Who
bloweth where You listeth, Whom
the world will never know, list to blow
These are four of the nine sections in “Having Read the Holy Spirit’s Wikipedia” by Bruce Beasley, from Theophobia (BOA Editions, 2012). Reprinted by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of the publisher.
We believe in Jesus Christ, our savior and liberator, the expression of God’s redeeming and restoring love, the mark of humanness, source of courage, power, and love, God of God, light of light, ground of our humanity.
We believe that God resides in slums, lives in broken homes and hearts, suffers our loneliness, rejection, and powerlessness.
But through death and resurrection God gives life, pride, and dignity, provides the content of our vision, offers the context of our struggle, promises liberation to the oppressor and the oppressed, hope to those in despair.
We believe in the activity of the Holy Spirit who revives our decaying soul, resurrects our defeated spirits, renews our hope of wholeness, and reminds us of our responsibility in ushering in God’s new order here and now.
This affirmation of faith originally appeared in the December 1986 issue ofiGi, a publication of the Asian Women’s Resource Centre for Culture and Theology. Used by permission.
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 and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”