I don’t know what I was thinking – apparently, I wasn’t. It just never occurred to me! Objectively speaking I am fortunate to have been given a pretty decent education. Call it blinders or tunnel-vision, the fact is my perspective on world cultures, other religions or the great wisdom traditions is dismally shallow. My knowledge is narrow and sectarian.
This weekend is a case in point… Isn’t Pentecost the day the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and thus the founding of the church? Well, yes. But it’s really so much more! It’s never occurred to me before that the apostles weren’t just sitting around together because they were afraid, waiting for the Holy Spirit to show up.
Pentecost is not a Christian invention. The disciples were gathered together in fidelity to the Jewish feast of Shavu’ot, the Festival of Weeks! It is the second of the three major Jewish pilgrimage festivals, the others being Passover and Sukkoth (commemorating the wandering in the desert).
Although it also is the time when first fruits were brought to the Temple, Shavu’ot celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Jews count from the second day of Passover to the day before Shavu’ot, 49 days to celebrate the vital connection between Passover and Shavu’ot. The festival is also known as Pentecost, because it falls on the 50th day.
The period from Passover to Shavu’ot is marked by great anticipation! Passover freed God’s chosen people physically from bondage. The giving of the Torah on Shavu’ot redeems them “spiritually” by establishing the terms of their covenant relationship with God.
I wish I had known this earlier! Overlays with Christianity are so obvious and rich. Ignorance has resulted in too much suffering and missed opportunities! Really too bad — my loss!
It is significant that Shavu’ot is called the time of the giving of the Torah, rather than the time of the receiving of the Torah. Rabbis point out that Jews are constantly in the process of receiving the Torah, it is to be received every day. Isn’t this true for all of us?
We can start fresh by fostering a climate of genuine curiosity and committing ourselves to become better listeners. Let’s also foster the even nobler human impulse – typically “maternal” – to instinctively seek reconciliation in a family and gather all the children together as one.
What better place to begin than in the spirit of the prayer for peace at the Vatican. It begins on Pentecost at 12 noon in Minneapolis, 7 p.m. in Rome. The inspiring text of the service has been released and is available [here].
At our home we will be lighting a candle as described in my [post] last Wednesday. Despite the marvelous prayers available in the “official” program given on the link above, I am drawn to the simple Prayer to the Holy Spirit I learned as a kid:
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 Your consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.
Pope Francis, Patriarch Bartholomew and Presidents Abbas and Peres will plant an olive tree in the Vatican Gardens at the conclusion of their prayer service. We have been planning to replace a wild rose bush in our garden along the street. We will do that on Pentecost with more intentionality, dedicating it to peace in Jerusalem and among the three great religions that make up the family of Abraham.
The cost of our ignorance is intolerable. The price of sectarian narrowness and tunnel-vision is death. We must get over it!
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.
This year Shavu’ot was commemorated from Tuesday evening, June 3 through Thursday evening, June 5.