Pentecost, Year C
By Wes Howard Brook and Sue Ferguson Johnson
“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young people shall see visions, and your old people shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2.17)
Late this past winter, we had to remove a big, old spruce tree from the south side of our little house here in the Issaquah Creek watershed. The City had replaced a sewer line adjacent to our house a few years earlier, and it had severed a major root of the tree. We knew it was only a matter of time for that old spruce. It finally gave up and down it came to protect our house from the risk of it falling on the roof.
Suddenly, we had a blank space. What to do with a part of the land we occupy now that the tree and related greenery was gone? A vision came to us: suddenly, we had a space on which the sun shined much of the day. Let’s create a new garden!
Over the spring, the vision is becoming reality. Snow peas abound, while peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, squash, cucumbers, eggplants and asparagus settle in to receive the sun, warmth and water that enables the magical alchemy of fruition. Our Thursday Bible study group, which has been meeting in our home for over fourteen years, baptized the space by holding a small group session within the transparent “walls” that keep deer and rabbits away from the tender leaves and shoots. We have invited our four grandchildren to put their painted handprints on the gate frame to mark the space as one they, alongside the plants, can grow up within. We look forward to basking in our seemingly never-ending Pacific Northwest summer days in this new place of life and flourishing.
Meanwhile, headlines anticipate our third, consecutive summer of smoke from the ever-more-likely wildfires in the nearby Cascade Mountains. The glaciers that cap the volcanoes and other high peaks are melting faster than any scientist anticipated. Orcas in the Salish Sea are starving to death, leading local Lummi to feed them by hand and conduct traditional ceremonies for the spiritual healing of the creatures whom they refer to in their language as “our relatives beneath the water” (https://kuow.org/stories/lummi-ceremonial-feeding). Countless species we barely know are disappearing forever before our eyes and beneath our feet.
In his powerful yet terrifying book, The Uninhabitable Earth, David Wallace-Wells offers a series of visions of “life after warming”: two degrees, two and a half, three, and the end-of-the-world scenario of four degrees of global warming. Throughout this devastating portrayal of the world as we are currently making it, he claims to be an “optimist.” He insists that the worst versions of a climate-ravaged future need not happen. We have choices to make and we can make them. He invites readers to reflect on the narratives that motivate us, that lead us to see ourselves and the world through specific lenses, and to find those stories that can lead us to make the choices we must.
But Wallace-Wells claims no particular narrative as one to embrace. After twelve chapters of very specific visions of how climate change is likely to unfold, his book comes to an unsatisfying end.
In this season when Easter turns to Pentecost, can we who claim the Story of Jesus offer and embody a vision of how to move through the devastating times we are inflicting on ourselves and our nonhuman siblings? Luke’s Pentecost passage from Acts of the Apostles invites us each year to reflect on which Spirit, which Story, which holy vision, fills us and empowers us to live in joyous abundance in all circumstances.
We know how easy it is to look into the face of climate change and despair, crying, “Who is like the beast and who can fight against it?” (Rev 13.4). There are days when all we want to do is cry. And certainly, grieving is part of the journey from what has been to what is coming to be. But it is not the place in which we are called to dwell. The temptation to give up, to stop not only resisting empire but also to let joy be effaced by endless sadness and rage comes from a spirit that is not at all “holy.” Similarly, we cannot let ourselves be infected by the spirit of hate and fear that emanates from Trump and his supporters. More than ever, we who claim the Story of Jesus must orient and open ourselves to be filled with and compelled forward by the truly Holy Spirit. Do we really have any other choice?
We all know well Luke’s story of Pentecosted people gladly sharing all things in common. Consider: this is Luke’s vision of how a handful of committed, Spirit-filled, ordinary folk can be seeds scattered by the Holy Wind to transform the face of empire into the face of God’s Beloved Community. The entire New Testament witness is not of a grand, dramatic overturning of the oppressive world-system, but of small circles of Spirited sojourners embracing a different vision in their local places of dwelling.
A song by the band, The Police, has emerged as a kind of mantra: “when the world is running down, you make the best of what’s still around.” The spruce tree is dead, but the new garden is abundant with new life. Who knows what the regenerative Spirit will bring forth from within this new space? Who knows what visions will be seen by the old and what dreams will be had by the young? Who knows what prophetic proclamations will be pronounced by our children or our children’s children?
God only knows, and She’s not telling. We’ll just have to continue the journey with the Jesus of the Uprising, step by step, day by day, led by the Spirit who transforms darkness into light, despair into hope, and death into new Life. May it be so.
Sue Ferguson Johnson and Wes Howard-Brook collaborate in the ministry, Abide in Me, from their home in the Issaquah Creek Watershed in Western Washington. Sue is a spiritual director of individuals and couples and Wes teaches theology at Seattle University. Together, they seek to integrate the inner and outer journeys with the Creator.
Wild Lectionary, a weekly reflection on land, creation and environmental justice themes in the texts of the revised common lectionary, is curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territories.