The feast of Pentecost used to carry different significance for me than it does now. Pentecost was the celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit, and that expressed the excitement and hope I experienced in my life of faith.
The Holy Spirit was the one who came in power, who transformed from uncertainty and bondage to freedom and mission.
Life was easy, evidence of God's love abounded as the Spirit opened my eyes and heart to the ways of the Father. Pentecost reminds me of that time in my life, a time which I know many others have also experienced.
But something has changed over the years; I don't hear the voice of the Spirit within as clearly anymore and I especially don't experience the ease of the journey in the same way. So what is that all about?
'Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them.'
I don't think I'm alone in this experience, and I think there are many who feel as though they have failed in their journey of faith. Where is the victory over sin? Where are the transformed lives that are so transparently filled with God's love and service that no selfishness is found, only hope and peace?
That's not to say that there hasn't been service and growth but the problem, as I see it, is that there has been an expectation created by a certain kind of theology that would say when you have received the Holy Spirit, and sincerely want to journey with Christ, you will have an inner freedom with which to do that.
So when certain difficulties persist, the inevitable conclusion is that something is wrong. Surely if we are living in the freedom of the Spirit and doing the works of God, our lives will be in order, our families will be examples, we will experience joy and freedom instead of the suffering that so many find within their lives.
I think that is a flawed theology. I also think it distracts us and stalls us. Many people's initial experience of life in the Spirit is somewhat like having the Holy Spirit come to live in your house and bringing a party with him. Lots of laughter, energy, love, good food and drink.
But then the party is over, the guests go home and the Holy Spirit has settled into one of the bedrooms to live.
The kitchen cabinets still need some work done on them, the garden still has weeds and now there are two leaks in the roof instead of just the one that was noticed last fall. We still have work to do.
The suffering in our lives, the places where we still struggle, the weakness and brokenness we still experience is meant to be an arena where God is at work, and not the evidence of his absence.
It is not about having all aspects of life neatly in the box that's checked off as done. It's about the journey to union in love with God, and the difficulties in life can be either a place where we are transformed or the place we get stalled.
Pentecost is the welcome reminder of God's gift of himself that continues to journey with us, transforming, comforting and drawing us deeper into love.
(Kathleen Giffin firstname.lastname@example.org)