I discovered the power of fire and wind the hard way.
I was a thirty-something mom of two toddlers and my husband and I had rented a little home in the country surrounded by open fields. One breezy spring afternoon, having returned from grocery shopping, I put the kids down for a nap, gathered up some trash and lit it in the incinerator at our back fence.
Anxious to savor some silent reading before the boys woke up (and seriously inattentive to my little conflagration), I hurried inside, grabbed a cup of coffee, and curled up with the biography I’d just received in the mail, its torn box feeding the flames crackling safely (I assumed) within the confines of the large open can at the property’s southern edge.
An urgent pounding at the kitchen door interrupted my solitude. A very alarmed woman was peering through its window.
“Your shed is on fire!” she exclaimed as I opened the door. I stepped outside to see a plume of smoke and terrifying flames leaping from the shed at the fenceline.
Sheer panic overtook me. Our landlord was storing an old BMW in that shed, and I was envisioning an apocalyptic explosion.
Then, these beautiful, hope-filled words helped me breathe: “My husband is a fiefighter,” the woman said. “I already called it in. They’ll be here any minute.”
And they were.
A little firetruck followed by a couple of pickups (how I love the term first responders) roared into our dusty driveway and within some of the longest minutes my memory, the men who’d sprung to action had doused the flames, leaving water streaming from the shed’s charred rafters and the old Beemer covered in wet ash.
My grateful heart heard God’s words to the prophet Isaiah so many centuries ago:
Before they call, I will answer, says the Lord; while they are still speaking I will hear.
Sometimes we get an unexpected glimpse of a world more grace-infused than we can ask or imagine.
Sometimes we even have insurance that covers the damage we do.
That story, now that its original shock and embarrassment have quelled, helps me understand the power of Pentecost’s passionate flames. The fire of the Holy Spirit is God’s uncontrollable love.
It’s one thing to hold a faith-flame contained inside you; it’s another to see it spread beyond your wildest dreams. That takes God’s loving Holy Spirit, represented not only by fire, but also by wind.
At the first Pentecost, Luke recounts, the little band of witnesses to Christ’s resurrection were contained in the upper room, at prayer, waiting for the “power from on high” Christ had promised would enable them to be his witnesses, in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost ends of the earth.
A sound “like a great driving wind” was the first sign of the Holy Spirit’s movement that day. Then the believers saw “as it were” tongues of flame separating from a holy fire and landing on each one of them.
They spoke. And the “devout Jews of every nation” staying in Jerusalem to celebrate the liturgical calendar’s harvest festival understood the resurrection’s good news in their own language.
Three thousand souls were baptized that very day.
That was quite a blaze.
The explosion of new believers weren’t brought in by an innovative church growth plan mapped out in the cenacle. Their hearts had been lit by wind and fire. And when each went home to their own country, they took that fire with them.
We cannot control the wind, as I learned the day I chose a relaxing read over containing my backyard fire. Wind shows up when it shows up. And when a breeze knocks a little spark out of its place, you can’t predict exactly what will happen next.
But you can prepare as you pray for the Spirit Wind.
We fan our faith-flames by recalling the graces we’ve been given, by singing the praises of the Most High God, whose resurrected Son defeated death once and for all. We can follow his instructions. Like showing up for worship. Like believing what he promised would come to pass in his own perfect timing. Like waiting in faith and hope. Like loving God with our whole hearts and our neighbors as ourselves.
That’s the way we feed the faith-flame when the wind dies down and our surroundings grow dark and cold.
Come, Holy Spirit.
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“Break, blow, burn…” These lines are from John Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14. Read Daniel Tucker Moynihan’s “Passion and Paradox in John Donne’s ‘Batter My Heart Three Person’d God'” at The Atlantic.