Pentecost Reflection: Wind and Fire and Water
The following reflection was written by Call To Action Vision Council member Debra Nell Brittenum of Memphis, TN.
Wind and Fire and Water
We are here – Pentecost – the birthday of the Church fifty days after Easter.
“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And, suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.”
The Church was formed. We believe at the initiative of God. With the Holy Spirit the iteration of church is illumined, indomitable, inventive and diverse.
“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues as the spirit enabled them.”
As a child beginning in 1959, our family lived directly across the street from St Mary’s Catholic Church high in the Rocky Mountains insulated from the Black Liberation Struggle in the United States. In that clear thin air, we, four little Black children, walked into the Mass of the faith that our father had passionately wrapped his arms round in 1938. Every word, save the homily, was in Latin and every song was not a Negro Spiritual that must have first nourished his faith in God and belief in Christ.
The Holy Spirit clothed in justice and equality had drawn him. He witnessed St. Augustine Catholic Church and school for Negroes being built on a hill in Memphis. White Franciscan men from Chicago and the BVM sisters of Dubuque came south with new books and desks for Negro children.
Imagine in 1969, after Vatican II, having that same Church wrap its arms corporally around us, our lives, our incarnation of Black life with Mass in English and a communion song “Precious Lord.” Finally, thirty years later, a lifetime for his children, his religion embodied the matter of his life. He rejoiced, “Debra Nell, you have to come and see! They’ve painted the pillars of the church red, black and green! We have paintings of Black saints! And, we have ourselves a choir now!”
I do not know the feeling in Africa, Asia, Central and South Americas, the Pacific Islands or Native American lands here, but it lifted us right out of our pews, swaying our bodies and clapping our hands in “joy, joy, joy deep down in our souls.”
For with Vatican II, “…in one Spirit we were all baptized in one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons…we were all given to drink of one spirit.”
It is the power of James McBride’s mother’s answer to his childhood question, “What color is God?” Her immutable answer, “The color of water.” When we gaze into a puddle or stick our hands into an ocean, we see that truth, each and all of us, in “the image and likeness of God.” Some things never change, but others must.
Call To Action does this for me! It is a movement to uncomfortable change. Call To Action calls our Church and world to the elemental truths that wind, water, and fire are change agents.
For the divorced and remarried (we did not witness our father receive Eucharist until our eldest sister’s, his firstborn, mother died when he was 70), for women, for the LGBTQI community, for people of color, for those forced to the margins to live in the poverty of unmet need and for the closeted in the Church and world. We do not yet know them all.
Call To Action strives to listen and speak. Refining, tuning, altering the revealed truth of new learning and knowing of our understanding in our time in this, our Church. We each one have been inflicted with the Spirit. We can never grow tired or weary or satisfied or smug.
We must radiate peace filled confidence. When Jesus appeared to them in that upper room, he said, “As God has sent me, so I send you.” We in Call To Action, believe that we are sent. We go. The path we dig, miss or abandon, but we go. This emboldens us.
We formed an Anti-racism team, intergenerational equity and family focus. We stand with those afflicted by sexual abuse by our clergy, women religious and church workers in their persecutions. We move to Louisville, Memphis and Albuquerque to meet others! We designate conference bathrooms as gender neutral. We misstep, halt, offend and hurt—really hurt. We sin. But we move forward together.
Then, in this community Call To Action, we continue to speak even after those experiences, with a bit more light, understanding, truth and humility. With the fire of the Holy Spirit, it is our heart’s desire to love fully, faithfully, and justly.
Peace be with you.