Pentecost: Absence and Creation

If we want to hear what's on another's heart, we'll have to shut up every now and then. If we are to receive, there has to be some empty space within us that is able to receive. Miska has been studying the Enneagram, an ancient way of describing our unique gifts and seductions. Miska tells me one of my perennial temptations is to be consumed with my inner thoughts, to be so stuffed with my ideas, with myself, that there is no space for others. It is true of my narcissistic self as it is true for all of us: something has to be lost in order for something to be found.

Last week, we walked through Jesus' ascension, that odd moment where Jesus returned to the Father. The way we imagine this story, either with an abracadabra and vanishing poof or with Jesus shooting into the Galilean sky like a Tomahawk missile, it's hard to be anything other than perplexed or embarrassed about the whole event. Jesus' ascension doesn't get much play because for the life of us we can't imagine why it happened. Whatever else, we think it must have been a sad day. Jesus was here, and then he wasn't. A cruel joke to rise from the dead only to disappear again. Of course, this wasn't the disciples reaction at all. After Jesus ascended to the Father, the Scriptures tell us that the disciples returned to town filled with joy, overwhelmed with hope and possibility. 

Jesus told the disciples that it would be good for them if he departed because when he did, the Spirit would come. And the Spirit would be everywhere, in every corner, in every heart. Jesus would have to be absent in one way in order for Jesus to be present in a pervasive and powerful new way. So the disciples gathered to await Pentecost, to await this powerful gift of God's Spirit. They felt the absence, but they eagerly anticipated the new reality God would soon create. 

With the disciples, we know the absence, even as we anticipate new creation. In the Christian year, Pentecost arrives Sunday. But Pentecost also arrives every moment. The invitation of Pentecost is to allow for the absence, for the undoing, for the emptying. And then, receiving the life God brings into that void, cooperate with God by unleashing our energy toward creative life.

Absence then creation is God's tandem maneuver. Creator-God moved into the earth's formless void and, with words that drop life like seeds, spoke our very existence into being. God moved into the dark empty that was Israel's Egypt and, from that barren sand, created a home, a place of belonging. Jesus surrendered to – and then erupted out of – the vast void of death. In other words, if you are in a wasteland, do not despair. Rather, hold on to your hat and your seat because these are exactly the places where God sends the Spirit. And where the Spirit goes, life and creation erupt.

God is, if anything, a creator, sculpting new beauty out of old and discarded fragments. This is why artists have so much to teach us. This is also why all of us are, in some form, artists. 

When you give your people your Spirit, life is created,
and you renew the face of the earth.
{Psalm 104.31}

4 responses to Pentecost: Absence and Creation

  1. Eric Phillips May 24, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    Thank you for this Winn. Granted some comfort and clarity to me for the season I’m in. I have found that we so often jump to the next passage, jump to pentecost, missing the turmoil that must have been during the lonely times found between the lines. The time in which Jesus’s followers spent alone in their own thoughts, wondering if the promise would be realized. I guess I can’t just assume what filled the spaces not recorded in the scriptures. But as much as the promise brings hope, the time spent feeling empty and alone can be quite despairing. As one who is incredibly narcissistic, continually consumed by my own thoughts, when I find myself feeling as if Jesus has departed and I cannot hear His voice, the narcissism becomes greater and the voice of doubt becomes overwhelming, making it harder to rest in the promise of His presence by His Spirit.

    • That hard rest is worth the effort, don’t you think?

      • Eric Phillips May 25, 2012 at 1:07 am

        Yeah I believe so. Coleen and I were talking about this tonight. So many of the saints of old went through a season of emptiness and loneliness before they were blessed with a time of fullness and deep communion by the Spirit. To behold the Glory of God and to know His presence would be worth the hardest darkness experienced a million times over. Yet when you are in it, it is hard to endure because the greater gift of a realization of His presence by His Spirit has not yet been felt in that moment. That is where I find myself, feeling very alone and feeling as if Jesus is distant and silent. But in that having hope and excitement believing that He is using this to uproot some things to make space for Him to dwell more intimately and more vibrantly within me. I see this in the little signs of hope He shows through stories of others that have gone before me and through hitting me with a blog post like this one, yet it is still hard finding myself feeling as if God is silent and Jesus is distant from me, crying out for the affirmation that comes by the presence of His Spirit. I know that I need a “pentecost”. For too long I have lived in my head, relying on my argumentation, but not resting in the assurance that comes by the blessing of His Spirit. For so long I lived by “I know because it makes sense to me” but I can’t play that game any more. I need to “know because He is real to me” and the reality of the presence of Christ comes by the sweet testimony of the Spirit. So for now, I understand why I find myself in this place, but also find my “understanding” to be fickle and weak, so I wait for His loving presence known by His Holy Spirit.

        Sorry for the long reply but you have been so instrumental in my formation that I wanted to elaborate on my comment as if I was speaking to you face to face.

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