Eugene Peterson pastor, scholar, author, and poet, relates seeing a family of sparrows teaching their reluctant young to fly. The experience led him to reflect on the challenge of being who we are called to be:
"Birds have feet and can walk. Birds have talons and
can grasp a branch securely. They can walk; they can cling.
But flying is their characteristic action, and not until they fly
are they living at their best, gracefully and beautifully.”
--Run with the Horses by Eugene Peterson
The role of the Holy Spirit in our lives has often puzzled me. How do I know that the Holy Spirit is working in me? How do I know that the Holy Spirit is speaking to me? On this solemnity of the coming of the Holy Spirit, I may have come up with a possible answer to those questions in Peterson’s observation of those sparrows. Could we, you and I, be as reluctant to exercise our discipleship as those little birds were to fly? Could the Holy Spirit be like the parents who kept challenging their charges to be what they were intended to be?
Like the reluctant sparrows, like the disciples locked in that upper room out of fear, we tend to hang on to the safe and the secure in our lives. Especially in these truly “terrifying” times, we hunker down with the easily familiar, suspicious not just of our surroundings but even of our fellow human beings. If fearful or uncertain of the outcome of a venture or opportunity, we often opt for inaction. If a person is different in ethnicity, culture, or lifestyle, we recoil from any meaningful interaction, perhaps even avoiding contact.
But the Holy Spirit encourages us with persistent prodding to be all that we have been called to be. Being fully human, being fully alive is more than just surviving. Especially as Easter disciples, we are challenged by the Holy Spirit to spread our wings and to accept the mandate of our calling: to bring about a world of peace and justice in our time. What we do when we gather each Sunday around the Word and the Sacrament is ritually letting go so that the presence of the Spirit in our lives will move us to action.
We are asked to let the Spirit of God direct us in our relationships with family members, putting “the other” before self. We are challenged to energize our faith community by caring for the least and the most vulnerable in our midst. The Spirit teases us to let go of our own self-interest so that the needs of others will move us to witness compassion first for one another and then the immigrant; to offer welcoming hospitality first to one another and then to the marginalized; to celebrate reconciliation first with one another and then even with those who hate us.
This is scary business for sure. But what was the point of Christ's death and resurrection if not for releasing the power of the Holy Spirit so that the world might be transformed in his image by us, his dsiciples. In our Baptism, in the Eucharist, we reaffirm our oneness with his message and mission. It will take all the courage we can muster. The Holy Spirit prods us this Pentecost to let go of what is secure and safe and to spread our wings. The swallows came to understand that
"… flying is their characteristic action,
and not until they fly are they living
at their best, gracefully and beautifully.”
As Easter disciples, we echoed a similar destiny in the words of our opening prayer to this Pentecost Liturgy: