Pentecost: Thought to Thought, Heart to Heart

Mary Magdala Community

“Pentecost: Thought to Thought & Heart to Heart”(c)

  Pentecost —  May 19 , 2024

Pastor,  Mary Magdala Community,

Rev. Jim Ryan, M.Div., Ph.D.  —

I thought it would be amusing to have AI write a Pentecost homily; amusing in the ironic sense that a digitally generated message could ever speak the language of the Spirit.  The machine may get the words “correctly” but they will never generate a relationship between understanding and experience such as we humans share with the Creator of all that is.  Last Sunday as we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension we sang the hymn, “Be Thou My Vision.”  The last verse ends:

“Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,

 Still be my vision, O Guider of All.”

No AI generated sermon, I submit, will ever replicate the joining of understanding and experience that speaks heart to heart.  This is the motto that John Henry Newman chose to be on his cardinal’s crest, “Heart speaks to heart,” (Cor ad cor loquitor).  It is a phrase first attributed to St. Francis de Sales.

Pentecost, oftentimes, is given over to retelling the story of the experience of Jesus’ disciples receiving the gifts of the Spirit – some visualize it as a hovering over heads of flaming tongues.  Once the story is told the preacher then resorts to words, such as it is the Christian’s duty to understand and to apply.  Christian history is flooded with words: catechisms, bible stories, dogmas, rote memories, etc.  But, how can we be held to understanding when we’re perhaps not so certain of how the Spirit has gifted us, gifted me?  Where is the translator of experience?  Where is the clarity of speaking this language that often seems foreign?  If I find it difficult to assimilate myself to this experience by which the Spirit is said to be clearly expressed through me to others, then how do I come to speaking the language of the Spirit?

It is difficult enough to do this with ordinary languages that require native speakers for clarity.  To speak with assurance we must live within that language which is not “our own.” And sometimes even native speakers require help.  This weekend Jean and I went to the graduation party of one of her piano students.  Jean has taught Monika since 3rd Grade.  And, yes, this was her College graduation party.  Monika is a first-generation child of immigrants from Poland.  She has spoken Polish all her life.  At the party we talked with her Mom about the help she gave to Monika for her Polish Class which is designed for students who already speak Polish.  Interestingly, her Mom said even she would get stuck on translating because she has lived long enough in this country that her native tongue has moved beyond her.  To speak the language one often needs translators.  As an ertwhile English speaker, I’m still trying to find out what “getting down” with something means.

My philosophy mentor, Hans Georg Gadamer, had much to say about language.  Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with even a summary of his 504 page major work.  But one thing he did say was that the person who understands has Speech.  As obvious as this may sound, he is saying that the strength, clarity, and understanding that is spoken through one’s Speech is the sign of overcoming the gap between one language and another, sometimes between a language and itself.  In terms of the presence of the Spirit in our lives, I would say we only close the gap between God’s Word and our own native tongues through experiencing the gifts of the Spirit – especially when we reach the maturity to acknowledge the giftedness of the gifts, the sheer gratuitousness of the divine.

So, I ask myself and I invite you ask yourself, “How do I close this gap?  In what way does my understanding of the Spirit’s fire share this experience of tongues of flame with Jesus’ disciples?”

In these advanced days of my life, I find reflecting on past events reveals the clarity and the fire of the Spirit.  In 1972, for example, Paul VI made the statement, “If you want Peace work for Justice.”  I haven’t taken the time to google the source.  Also, this idea is not original to him.  Psalm 85:11b says it more endearingly, “Justice and Peace shall kiss.”  However, I remember hearing that phrase with the impact of spiritual certainty.  At no time since have I ever regarded this thought as anything less than guidance from the Spirit.

Or, remember when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr decided to join with the Peace Movement against the war in Vietnam?  The racial justice establishment strongly advised him against taking that stand.  He would alienate too many people is what they said.  Some have thought that this step of exposing the complicity between the powers of economic injustice and the military-industrial complex was the final step that assured his assassination.  Or was it rather the Preacher, and the Rev. MLK Jr could certainly preach, ultimately showing that he needed no translator in order to be the originator of his own Speech.  His understanding and experience of the Spirit’s message was one and the same.

Now, in the Middle East and Ukraine, and too many other places we witness yet more evidence that humanity that abandons this kiss of justice and peace, this clarity of speech and fire, does so at its peril.

Finally, let’s consider our own community’s search for a Co-Pastor.  I would venture to say that were we to conduct such a search 5 years ago, our sights would directly include  an ordained person, male or female, whose position meant inclusion of apostolic succession as defined by the Roman Catholic Church.  Given our discussions now our sights are set on different qualifications and expectations.  I believe this is a mark of a community that is Just, Priestly, and Free.  Our search has more to do with having faith in our shared understanding and experience of the Spirit among us.  We are faithful to the succession of those who experience the Spirit as an indiscriminate giver of all good gifts, even to those first speakers who were understood by all those speakers of other languages.

On this Pentecost Day we are neither in the grip of AI (see the AI generated homily below) nor are we beholden to long, lost imagery of how the Spirit appears on earth or in the cosmos.  Look around.  See the Spirit.  She speaks, “Thought to Thought & Heart to Heart.”

A Prayer of St. Hildegard of Bingen    (click the link)

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