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Hallo again to all on this day of Pentecost.

It's just possible that this is the most dangerous sentence Christians can utter: Come, Holy Spirit.

Do we really know what we're praying for when we intentionally utter, in whatever language, that plea? We wonder. It's so easy to domesticate Our Lord the Holy Spirit — and we mean no irreverence when we write that. Since that first Pentecost, the Spirit has always 'been there' and we presume that It is ever near us, hovering, guiding, chiding, strengthening. And so It is. But yet there are times when we see fit to invoke, quite solemnly and intentionally, the Holy Ghost to come down upon us and guide our councils, conventions, and committees.

Lightning over MartiniqueSo what are we doing when we call out? If the Holy Spirit is always 'here', why the need to summon It? Perhaps because the third person of the Trinity isn't pushy and only comes when invited. The power and the presence are always with us, indeed, but unless we call upon and cooperate with the Spirit, the graces and the gifts may remain as potentialities only. We're told that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth, but we need to initiate that call to be led. And that can be an awesome and aweful invitation, to open ourselves, our churches, our councils, our lives, to the inrush of the Spirit, Which will take us to places we may rather not go. Exhilarating and frightening and uncontrollable.

Just like that first Fiftieth Day. It's considered an antitype to the story of the Tower of Babel. Our ancestors undertook that tower's construction and, as well-trained architectural subcontractors, we spoke in one tongue, understood and efficient. But, for all the classic reasons, we failed in our building and descended into a babble of language, from then on to be understood only by those in our immediate neighbourhood. Tribal societies indeed.

Fast forward from that tower to the city of Jerusalem on that great feast of Pentecost. That same ethnic and regional babbling all round, just like a corridor in a busy international airport. Then that mighty wind stirring. And, all of a sudden, that linguistic fragmentation is not merely reversed, but rather that knot of verbs, adjectives, gestures, nouns, dangling participles made all clear. Heard. Understood. Babel Made Better. What an astonishing day. But fear and awe were surely part of the astonishment.

Perhaps we need to do more invoking of the Holy Spirit in these fractious days in our Anglican Communion. The babble of irate bishops, the hissing of blogs, the GAFCONS and Lambeths, the acronyms and the interest groups . . . may the pieces and shards of our divisions be, God willing, regathered and remade through the guidance of Our Lord the Spirit.

Charles Williams, in his brilliant Descent of the Dove, wrote about the Day of Pentecost: 'The real work was now to begin'.

Let it begin.

Veni, Sancte Spiritus

See you next week.

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Last updated: 11 May 2008


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