Beloved St. John’s community,
Some of you may be familiar with Sufism, which some would call the mystical branch of Islam. Some of my favorite poets are Sufis: Rumi, Hafiz, Kabir. They were medieval Muslims whose hearts were exploded open, who saw love everywhere they went. One of them wrote this poem, entitled “What Should We Do About That Moon?”1:
A wine bottle fell from a wagon and broke open in a field.
That night one hundred beetles and all their cousins gathered.
And did some serious binge drinking.
They even found some seed husks nearby and began to play them like drums and whirl.
This made God very happy.
Then the “night candle” rose into the sky and one drunk creature, laying down his indievalstrument, said to his friend – for no apparent reason,
“What should we do about that moon?”
Seems to Hafiz most everyone has laid aside the music tackling such profoundly useless questions.
I laughed out loud the first time I read this poem, and it has been one of my favorites ever since. Though I wouldn’t want to lessen its impact by discussing it too much, it seems to me that his last line—“most everyone has laid aside the music tackling such profoundly useless questions”—lies at the heart of the difference between the disciples before and after Pentecost.
You may be a little startled to go from beetles binge drinking to the disciples at Pentecost, but let me explain. Pentecost (this coming Sunday May 23) is sometimes called “the Birthday of the church,” and it was when the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples in the upper room ten days after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, when all the world must have felt well and truly wrecked for them. They began speaking about “God’s mighty acts”—in today’s parlance, perhaps “what God has been up to”—in languages they had previously not known, and the effect sounded so raucous and wild that the surrounding people thought they were all drunk.2 Something about being “filled with the Spirit” changed them from looking at the Way of Jesus from the outside, like kids peering through the windows of a candy store, to experiencing the joy of seeing God at work directly. The effect was, perhaps, something like the beetles binge drinking and whirling to music that made God so very happy in this poem. Hafiz disdains those who “lay aside the music”, especially for things like “tackling profoundly useless questions.” Pentecost is a time, not to rehearse an ancient miracle while sleepwalking, but to ask God to grant us the experience of God’s Spirit directly, so that we too may be transformed. Pentecost is a time for picking up our instruments and whirling in dance. It’s a time to be open to the Spirit.
In both Hebrew and Greek, the Bible’s two languages that couldn’t be more different, the word “Spirit” has the same three meanings: spirit, wind, breath. The Spirit was the original agent of creation, hovering over the deep like a mother bending over the face of her crying child, when God said “let there be light.” The Holy Spirit was the one who made the resurrection possible for Jesus. The Holy Spirit is about perceiving God directly, aligning with the power and presence of God directly, in a way that grants new life, especially life that seems impossible—like resurrection is after crucifixion. And this life and the intimate presence of God grants a joy and the need to express it that might seem a little wild to our sedate Episcopal sensibilities.
But there’s no way around it. Jesus was surrounded by miracles and healing, because he was so profoundly connected with God and filled with the Spirit. Jesus grants his disciples that exact same Spirit, and means us to be agents of healing and joy and power as well. We are meant to discover joy, and to live it out with all the power of a laughing child. Now, it’s true that there is much to grieve in this world; there are many things that are very heavy, and we are only too familiar with them. But we will never change those things coming from our usual state of being. We need the power of the Holy Spirit, my friends—that can split us open so that the power of God’s love can flow through us like a river.
As you walk through your day and your week, and as we approach Pentecost this Sunday, no matter what is happening in your life, see if you can become aware of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is already always there, closer than your own breath, than your own name. See if you can detect the Spirit moving, not just in you personally, but in whole groups of people. Imagine that the transformation that undeniably occurred in those cowering disciples who quickly spread Jesus’ Way of Love to the four quarters of the compass is also available to us, at St. John’s, and in your own life. I invite our whole community to pray a single prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, Come.
With love and hopeful waiting,
1 See Hafiz, The Gift, Poems by Hafiz the Great Sufi Master
2 See Acts 2:1-21.