Ars Praedicandi: Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Ed Foley

by Fr. Edward Foley, Capuchin

He was not quite the Karate Kid:
no Jaden Smith,
no Ralph Macchio,
nor budding movie star … after all, he only had one arm,
having lost his left one in a devastating car accident.

To build up his confidence
and with much encouragement from his family
he decided to study judo with a seasoned Master.

The boy did amazingly well,
but after three months of training
he had only been taught one move.

“Sensei,” he asked, “shouldn’t I be learning more moves?”
The Master replied, “this is the only move
you will ever need to know.”
Trusting his wise teacher, he continued training.

Months later, the Master enrolled the boy in a public tournament.
He did amazingly well, winning match after match
until, to everyone’s surprise, he ended up in the finals.

His opponent in that match was not only older
and more experienced,
but was considerably stronger and towered above him.

Concerned that the boy with only a right arm might get hurt
the referee wanted to call off the match
but Sensei insisted that it go on.

With this daunting challenger
a grueling struggle ensued
but when his opponent dropped his guard
the boy used his one move to pin his opponent
winning match and tournament.

On the way home, after some silence
the young champion asked his Master,
“Sensei, how did I win the tournament with only 1 move?”

Sensei replied, “You won for two reasons:
first, you mastered one of the most difficult throws
in all of Judo,
and second, the only known defense for that move
is for your opponent to grab your left arm.”

There you have it,
a baptized equivalent of a Sheldon Cooper “bazinga”
the unexpected final twist that catches us off-guard
ambushes us with wisdom,
pulls the rug out from under our presumptions
and delivers a considerable dose of humility
to those who think they understand.
It’s called a parable!

Jesus was a master of the parable
his most characteristic form of instruction
on full display again in today’s gospel.

Like other teaching strategies
parables have multiple dynamics,
which is why they are so effective.
One obvious dynamic,
like in the right handed karate kid story
employing a move than can only be countered
by grabbing a missing left arm,
is the element of surprise
that knocks the listener off balance.

In the process the parable dismantles our presuppositions
disrupts our usual line of thinking
and proposes unexpected and sometimes uncomfortable
new truths.

These dynamics are effective
because parables are the ultimate narrative onion
comprising increasingly complex layers
whose central message cannot be skimmed off the surface
but requires thoughtful excavation.

A superficial reading of today’s parable about wheat and weeds
could give the impression that God’s reign is binary-
black and white,
good and evil-
that there are only wheat and weeds:
saints and sinners,
Christians and non-Christians,
and Irish and those who want to be –
one is obviously good … the other is highly questionable.

We are wired for this instinctive and problematic kind of thinking:
a source of much humor and critique:

Like Mark Twain’s: “There are basically two types of people.
People who accomplish things
and people who claim to have accomplished things.

He concluded: “The first group is less crowded.”

Dear Abby suggested that the two kinds of people
are those who walk into a room and say, ‘There you are!’ and those who walk into a room and say, ‘Here I am!’

Humorous Robert Benchley summarizes:
“There are two kinds of people in the world,
those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world
and those who don’t.”

Jesus is clearly in the second category.
In his ministry he did not divide folk up
into redeemable and irredeemable,
worthy and unworthy,
or lovable and despicable.

Rather, his ministry was nothing less than an extended parable
that continuously scrambled traditional thinking,
upended well established categories,
and redefined the very reign of God.

That disruption is clearly operative in today’s parable
that in some ways raises more questions than answers.

From one perspective you could argue
that the agricultural advice Jesus is dispensing here is
‘don’t pull out the tares, the darnel, the lolium temultentum –
the weed that looks like wheat,
but is bitter to the taste and even poisonous.

Instead, a surface reading has Jesus saying “wait!
Hold on until harvest when we will savor the wheat
and torch that bothersome weed,
that weapon of the enemy.  Justice will be served.”

But like every parable, things aren’t always what they seem.
Maybe the weed is the equivalent of the wheat’s left arm!

In the topsy-turvey Jesus program
maybe this isn’t the obvious “last judgment parable”
a warning to all evildoers that they are going to burn,
and instead a warning to Jesus’ followers
that we were not anointed to be weed hackers,
crop judgers,
or field cops.

Instead, we were planted in God’s kingdom of diversity
and instructed to live in harmony
not to uproot each other, and instead
to share the soil with apparently invasive species,
even to embrace the crabgrass.
At base level, I think Jesus was a weed lover

While this interpretation might verge on the outlandish
it appears less so when considering how this tale of two seedlings
is deeply rooted in Matthew’s gospel:

  • written in turbulent times,
  • shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem
  • when a growing Gentile population confronted his largely Jewish audience
  • and his community was challenged by false prophets, internal tensions and sometimes outright conflict
  • spiritual crabgrass was everywhere.

So is the Jesus program the divine equivalent of
a Scott’s lawn care program designed
to execute any Dandelion family
that dares to set foot in our community?
Or is it more like the prairie restoration programs
that increasingly grace our region,
revitalizing important native ecosystems
and serving as important sanctuaries
for migratory species, native plants,
and essential pollinators?

Let’s face the facts: the Chicago park district does not have
a weed eradication program
for the Burnham Wildlife Corridor
though plenty of movements and legislatures today
do have programs intent upon
eradicating diversity
excluding migratory peoples, and ignoring
the graced pollination only these strangers can bring.
Ironically, maybe in their eyes, we are the weeds
trying to choke them out of their own human dignity.

Suzanne Simard is a Canadian scientist and forest ecologist
who forever changed how people view trees,
their interconnection to each other and other living things.
Maybe you know her moving memoire, Finding the Mother Tree.

Born into a logging family in British Columbia
she began working for the public forest service
whose approach to sustainability
was clear-cutting large areas of the forest
and replanting a single, marketable species.

This approach was based on the notion of species competition
and the need to eliminate all competing plants or trees
in order to get the best, sustainable economic value.

Simard proved that this approach was counterproductive
that trees communicate through a complex web of fungi
that birch and fir were not competitors but collaborators,
that magnetic hubs or Mother trees at the center of forests
communicate, nourish, and protect their environment
and in their dying become even more generous
sharing their carbon nutrients
with whatever species was in need.

Simard summarizes:

Somehow with my Latin squares and factorial designs, my isotopes and mass spectrometers and scintillation counters, and my training to consider only sharp lines of statistically significant differences, I have come full circle to stumble onto some of the Indigenous ideals: Diversity matters.

In his stunning exposé on Soviet labor camps
the great Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
in his The Gulag Archipelago, warned

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

The Gulag Archipelago (Collins, 1974), 28.

Instead of destroying hearts,
weeding out differences,
or eradicating strangers like invasive species
the Jesus program for kingdom care offers a different path:
to share soil
learn to cross-pollinate
nourish the flowering of others
even to develop holy envy for their flourishing.

In a word, hearts are not to be destroyed but changed:
softened, opened, extended, and transformed
mirroring that Sacred Heart of the only begotten,
so vulnerable and accessible
that it was ultimately pierced on the cross,
dramatically splayed open
that all might be nurtured in its love.

And so with the poet we pray
change our hearts
change our hearts
change our hearts O Lord
through Christ our Lord.  Amen.


A “Prayer for Vocations,” Or, how not to Arrange the Liturgical Chairs on the Deck of the Titanic

I recently read a resignation letter from a priest to his bishop. The letter was written on the 33rd anniversary of the priest’s ordination, from within a psychiatric ward. It was an open, clear, and honest text. The priest had been in charge of a key diocesan office and witnessed a different reality in the lives of the faithful than his bishop wanted to acknowledge. This had created an unholy dissonance in the heart of this priest; the only way he could envision staying true to his priestly vocation was to say “no” to the bishop’s joy and pride in the diocese appearing to be a bulwark against the evils of modernity, liberalism, the culture of choice, Cafeteria Catholicism, etc. One particular element the priest mentioned in his letter was the fact that the bishop routinely lifted up with pride the ordinations of a few young men to the priesthood in his diocese. What was never acknowledged was that none of these young men were led to ordained ministry in that diocese itself; they came there by way of shopping for candidates for ordination internationally.

I think there is something deeply troubling in not acknowledging that the Titanic – in this case: the ship of vocations to ordained ministry – is sinking (even if this happens most dramatically in the North Atlantic world). Not that there is nothing to be done on a sinking ship, or compelling prayers to be had for that moment, but rituals of refusal of reality are, simply, unconvincing because un-truthful. As such, they are unable to set us free to face the moment with the “saintliness demanded by the present moment” (Dorothy Day). This brings me to a prayer that the bishop of the diocese in which I live much of the year asked all parishes to pray together at the end of Sunday Mass. Called a “Prayer for Vocations,” at heart it is a prayer for young men to be called to the priesthood. An opening paragraph of the scripted prayer reminds God that we are each created for a definite purpose and asks God to allow us to say “yes” to our vocations. The key petition that follows is for “vocations to the priesthood of Jesus Christ.” It asks that “our young men respond to Your call with courage and zeal.”

In principle, praying for vocations is simply one response to Jesus’s invitation to pray for laborers to be sent out into the harvest (Mt 9:37f). What strikes me as deeply problematic in this particular prayer for vocations is the context in which we are asked to pray it. To put it starkly, this prayer seems to ask a community to stick its head in the sand with regard to the drastic decline in vocations to ordained ministry in the North Atlantic world. Not that I do not believe in the power of prayer. I do, fervently so. But there are prayers that disempower, on the deck of the Titanic. As such, rather than being a sign of trust in God’s abundant grace, such prayers force us to perform a falsehood, and that on a sinking ship. After all, other prayers than the one cited above could be spoken, in 2023. Why not pray for the Church to come to its senses and begin again to ordain married men? We do already have married priests, in the Eastern Catholic churches. One might even pray that the insistent focus on one specific form of gendered embodiment – and one only – as a prerequisite for ordained ministry might fall by the wayside.

I say all this after having initially tried on the bishop’s prayer for “young men” to choose priestly ordination (but why not “older” men?). This despite the fact that as a scholar of liturgy, I object to a bishop’s pet-projects having to be voiced by a congregation before the final blessing at Sunday Mass. Intercessions are a perfectly appropriate place for that, if must be. More recently, I have simply remained silent, but that seemed a posture of angry defiance and not much more. Finally, I have started praying my own prayer, sotto voce, for God to speed up the Latin church’s recovery of priestly ordination for married men (it seems an eminently sensible little prayer, if I say so myself). Maybe next I will try on a prayer for gender simply no longer to function as a hyper-marked element in discernment for priestly vocations.

For now, however, the larger issue for me has become the question of truthfulness in prayer, as we try to stand before God in worship, in community. When is it time to say “no” to a performance that makes us complicit in a falsehood, by obedience to a command to rearrange deck chairs on a sinking ship rather than focus on the sinking that is so clearly taking place?

And yes, if I had not read the resignation letter by the priest I mentioned earlier, and then asked myself where I might be invited to resist, this bishop’s prayer might never have risen in my consciousness beyond a regular Sunday morning annoyance. The letter-writing priest, I am glad to say, is no longer on a psychiatric ward but with a religious community that has enveloped him and re-grounded his sense of priestly vocation. It seems that Truth can indeed set one free, even on a sinking ship.

Writing our Lives in the Margins: Liturgical Texts & the Life of Faith

Last week, for the feast of St. Thomas More, I kept an image of his prayer-book close at hand. More took this book with him in 1534 to the Tower of London, where he was executed for treason a year later. In the margins of this prayer-book, Thomas More hand-wrote his own reflections, notes, and prayers. It is as close as one can get to Thomas More’s lived life and prayed faith.

What is usually referred to as Thomas More’s prayer-book is in reality two books bound together, both of them liturgical: a printed Book of Hours and a Latin Psalter. Whether these two were already bound together when Thomas More took them to the Tower with him is unclear but what is clear is that within these liturgical books, Thomas More wrote his own prayer-life, scribbling notes in the margins of various psalms, and — most famously — a long prayer in the margins beginning at the Office of Prime. The prayer stretches across the following pages and pages. Many things are remarkable about these texts and what Thomas More prayed about and for (and against!). What moves me, not least as a scholar of liturgy, is how he wrote his life into the liturgical texts wherever they left room for that. This prayer-book, in other words, witnesses not only to how Thomas More prayed with a given liturgical text, but also beyond it. And he did so by writing in the margins, seeking room for his own words as he turned page after page to identify blank spaces (Thomas More was not alone in this but followed the pious practice of many late medieval believers, as Eamon Duffy has shown).

That particular practice – namely, the fusion of printed liturgical texts and a lived faith scribbled around these texts – has something to say to us today. After all, we ourselves are not only witnesses of this fusion taking place on the pages of St. Thomas More’s prayer-book but co-creators of this fusion in the here and now, as we chart our own path through a lived life of faith, praying with the liturgy, and beyond it, and sometimes against it (at least that is true in my case, as a woman and a theologian in the twenty-first century).

I think of this fusion when I cycle to Mass past the building that now houses the prayer-book of St. Thomas More, namely Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. I am glad to say that I have been able to see and hold and study this book on a number of occasions. So, I wave to St. Thomas More’s prayer-book in its temperature-controlled vault of the library as I cycle past. I tell it that I honor it as a precious relic of someone who spoke truth to power and paid with his life for obedience to God rather than to Empire, even if Yale’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library wouldn’t know to catalogue the book as such. At least, the prayer-book of St. Thomas More now lives in close proximity to a church named after the saint who prayed with and beyond this book. As I cycle on to that church, I am grateful for the reminder that the liturgy and my own lived life of faith fuse in ever new — and never simple — ways.


Counting post-pandemic time in ordinary time

How are we doing as worshipping communities emerging from a global pandemic? The answer is probably, ‘it depends’ – where are we in the world and who are we talking about? I can only ask the question from a particular corner of the world, and from the limited perspective of a few Roman Catholic and a few Anglican/Episcopal parishes.


For me the first reflection is theological – what have we learned about liturgical rites and sacramental liturgies? Many of us (on these pages of PrayTellBlog and elsewhere) have noted that we were ill-equipped to immediately cope with the restrictions which COVID brought us, particularly with regard to sacramental rites. Those who have exercised ministry with the sick and dying did, against all odds, find ways to “pray over” not just “pray for” those in need of the church’s gifts of ministration to the bodies most in need, exercising extraordinary measures to be frontline sacramental ministers. The broader community was confronted with baptisms and confirmations and weddings, mostly delayed (or held outdoors or adjusted in interesting ways – including some unfortunate attempts at virtual baptisms), as well as drive-by confessions.


The central conversation for many with regard to the pandemic and sacramental life was often about the eucharist, or specifically, the reception of communion. My experience was not only frustration at the necessary restrictions, but the realization of the poor job of catechesis many of us had done at the parish level. There was a mighty confusion within the body of Christ celebrating the eucharist together and the reception of communion. As the daily or weekly celebration of the eucharist continued first with presiders at their dining room table with smart phones, then to a handful of people in the church building with a bit more sophisticated livestreaming, we still had oddities, such as “no one receives communion until everyone receives communion” and other approaches that made no sense except in the misconception of “getting communion” as an object of quantity. There were creative alternatives for communion (drive-up, dropped off on front porches, socially distanced outdoor celebrations), and my favourite, outside roofless churches built of ice walls where one might presume the cold kept away the spread of disease. But there were also both official and unofficial  prayers for spiritual communion which became helpful not only in the prayer life of people watching online but also as those prayers began to break a logjam for many worshipping communities who assumed eucharist and reception of communion were inseparable. To “attend” or “watch” a eucharistic celebration and consciously not receive communion opened the way to celebrating the eucharist without immediate tangible consumption and allowed catechesis to enter which helped some communities understand that the eucharistic celebration was not only for their reception of communion but for the good of the whole world. My sense is we have not yet reaped the results of the addition of spiritual communion prayers in many communities.


What have we learned as we have returned to ‘in-person’ liturgy? First, the phrase “in-person” is not unimportant. The physicality of one’s whole being in a space with other bodies has renewed conversations about ritual engagement, procession, and the materiality of ritual and liturgical practices. My experience in the neighbourhood is first about the social dimension. People who have returned are almost gleeful. The importance of coffee hour (and the virtual revolt in those communities where that was not happening) has confirmed for me the costs of isolation and loneliness. It has taken a while for people to learn how to talk with each other again, rather than all of us talking at once. The joy of singing together, making sandwiches for the hungry together, all the little things we took for granted, have spilled back into the liturgy. We have missed being community, being the body of Christ together in one place at one time – and that has, in prompting, elicited reflections on the “we” of Christianity. There are also those who have not returned. For some, the health risks mean they cannot return, for others there is a fear out of proportion to reality, for others still there is a loss of habit in “going to church.” Without the social support, they may not return. And – there are the ‘new people’. In every parish I have helped out in over the past year, there are new people showing up. Something in their lives post-pandemic has led to a need to walk in the door, to see what this is all about or to restore something missing in their lives for a very long time.


Theological questions, social questions, and suspended between the two of them, technological questions. Or perhaps better put, how do we do and how are we doing in hybrid liturgy? As the balance has tipped toward people returning to church (including, in one parish, people returning when the livestreaming stopped as an option), where are we? Is the primary ‘congregation’ the one online, or in the room? My experience is the equipment to maintain the virtual congregation often took centre stage – directly affecting the ‘performance’ of liturgy because it all had to be within the scope of a camera which was often unmoving. This resulted in liturgies that did not “move” – a type of late medieval restoration of the ‘private mass’ – all done at the altar and mostly by one person. In some places, far better equipment has changed that. But in other places, either from exhaustion of the few ‘tech people’ or of a deliberate choice to prioritize those present and proximate, the cameras are taking a back seat (literally) or being turned off. The calls for countless workshops and discussions on how to do these liturgies continue, but at a muted level compared to a year ago. While a number of meetings (and prayer groups) continue online, my experience (again – in one corner of the world and in two ecclesial communities) is the waning of the virtual.


So much of our liturgy is about the eschatological trajectory we are on as well as the eschatological source of our being. How do we take the almost obligatory conversations about “where are these people?” “why haven’t they come back?” and turn it to “where are we going with these new people?” “how do we together invite many more to hear these lifegiving words and to learn to pray?” How have our lived experiences of being immersed in something beyond our control changed our prayer? How has living so close to death and the imminent possibility of death changed our priorities? How have the implications for our daily life and work called us as individuals to reassess what we actually need versus what we want? And how have all of these changed our liturgies?


Ars Praedicandi: Pentecost, Ed Foley

by Fr. Edward Foley, Capuchin

Educators and scientists,
entrepreneurs and parents,
doctors and spiritual directors,
all recognize the importance
of asking questions,
but especially of asking the right questions.

The ancient Greeks understood this in spades
and we inherited from them the so-called Socratic method:
a style of education rooted in questions
that prod us into discovering the underlying assumptions
of our positions and beliefs.

This questioning approach is not meant to intimidate
but to provoke “productive discomfort”
coaxing one into increasingly beneficial levels
of honesty and insight.

Some insist that certain explorations
benefit from specific and sophisticated questions
that only the specialist can ask.
However, there is also general wisdom afoot
that prizes questions posed by non-experts
who are happily naïve about what can or cannot be asked.

Sometimes the naïve question
is a first step towards fresh wisdom
and experts can inadvertently get in the way of that wisdom.

When it comes to questions about God or Jesus or the Spirit,
when it comes to questions about Pentecost or other feasts,
sometimes the experts get in the way.

So in my preparation for this morning’s preaching
I was gifted with an unexpected yet eye-opening conversation
with an imaginative 9-year-old
about the meaning of Pentecost.

I was staying with her family and had brought my laptop along
trying to find a fresh angle on preaching this feast
that I have preached at least 3 dozen times.

For her birthday a few weeks before
Samantha had gotten a small robotics kit
and was in the process of constructing a mechanical spider.

When she asked me what I was doing
and I told her I was trying to write a sermon for Pentecost.
She wasn’t sure what that was.

When she asked about it
I told her that it was a special day of thanking God
for sharing the Spirit of Jesus with us.

When I asked her if she knew about the Holy Spirit,
like any self-respecting 4th grader in Catholic School,
she said, “of course.”
She then went on to explain that the Spirit was God’s breath;
it was like oxygen
and that when we prayed we could breathe in God
that helped us to be good.

Then, this budding theologian looked at the mechanical spider
she had named Twitchy in the process of its construction.
She turned it on and as it awkwardly crawled around
she said “Twitchy doesn’t have breath.
He can move but has no oxygen.
He will never be able to breathe in God.”
Too bad she couldn’t be here this morning to preach!

The advice to “just breathe” is ubiquitous.
It is on t-shirts and mugs, placards and greeting cards.
It is woven into the instruction of everyone from yoga instructors
to emergency room personnel.
“Just breathe” has been the inspiration for everything from
self-help books and videos
to music by Pearle Jam.

The wisdom here is rooted in great science
that demonstrates how deep breathing
not only helps us relax but can positively effect
the heart, the brain, our digestive and immune systems
and even help people manage pain.

A number of years ago I was preparing to preside at a wedding.
The couple had been together for a number of years
but wanted their marriage blessed in the church.

A few months before the wedding
they discovered they were pregnant
and scheduled a sonogram.

They gave me the results in a sealed envelope
and wanted me to include the gender reveal
as part of the ceremony.

As I have never seen a sonogram up close
and had no idea how to interpret one
my anxiety was even higher than usual.

In the sacristy before the wedding
I needed to open this envelope
and see if I could decipher the results
so that this reveal moment wouldn’t be revealing
how dumb the presider was.

With a rapidly increasing pulse
I unsealed the envelope which held a single sheet of paper
with a smiley face and a message that read
“Just Breathe, IT’S A GIRL!”

Pentecost is ordinarily described
as a feast commemorating the 50th day after the resurrection
when God’s spirit descended upon the apostles
and the church was born.

That description is alternately true and problematic.
On the second Sunday of Easter, the gospel we read from John
reported that on the day of the resurrection itself
Jesus appeared to his disciples,
showed them his hands and feet,
breathed on them and said, “receive the Holy Spirit.”

Furthermore, it is a well-documented early Christian belief
that the church was born not on Pentecost
but on Good Friday when blood and water
flowed from the pierced heart of Christ.
So what exactly are we celebrating today?

In its Jewish origins, Pentecost was a harvest feast –
the harvest of wheat.
Eventually, that harvest was given a historical significance
recalling Moses’ harvesting of the Torah on Mt. Sinai.

In its Christian reformulation,
Pentecost became a harvesting of the New Law in Christ
to love God and neighbor as one
and a regifting of Divine Breath, of Holy Oxygen
so that Jesus’ disciples could “breathe in God and do good”
could exhale with God’s Spirit and continue Pentecosting.

Recently I was on one of those long flights
that gave me a few hours to get some writing done
but then left enough time in the trip
to turn on the flight entertainment.

While the viewing options were extensive
feature films seldom intrigue me
and instead I am drawn to the documentaries.
There I stumbled upon a Pentecost movie.

It is called Girl Rising and narrates the journey
of 9 girls around the globe
struggling for self-empowerment through education.

The film and the “Girl Rising” movement
were inspired by the story of Malala Yousafzai,
the young Pakistani activist for women’s education
who at 15 was shot in the head for her advocacy,
surviving to become the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize
and a graduate of Oxford University where she is now a fellow.

In the spirit of Malala,
Girl Rising is the remarkable tale of parallel stories
of 9 extraordinary young girls
struggling for education, liberation, and self-determination.

Like that of Wadley from Haiti
an eager and smart 10-year-old
who excelled in her studies.
One day she had successfully recited from memory
the final speech of the Haitian Leader Toussaint Louverture
who tried to win independence for the country.

Wadley’s triumph, however, was short-lived
for that afternoon, after school, at 4:53 p.m.
a magnitude 7 earthquake struck Haiti
killing or injuring half a million people
and affecting the lives of 7 times that number
including Wadley
whose school was destroyed,
whose mother’s house and business were decimated,
and who now spent her days carrying water
to their corner of a tent city
instead of being in school.

Then one day, a miracle occurred.
For on the edge of the tent city
a makeshift school arose.
Wadley went racing for her books and returned
to sit on a bench eager to learn from her old teacher
but the teacher would not let her stay
because her mother had no money.

She left rejected but the next day
returned to the tent school
determined to stay.
When her teacher told her to leave
because she could not pay
Wadley said over and over again, “no, no, no”
and in the revolutionary spirit of Toussaint Louverture
declared “If you send me away
I will come back every day until I can stay.”

The teacher relented, a tent-school filled with oxygen
a Spirit of Wisdom descended
and Wadley could breathe again.

I never thought of the gift of education as a Pentecost.
I was probably privileged with it too much.
But for Wadley, and Malala, and other girls’ rising
it was a liberating spirit, a holy oxygen
an inspired buoyancy that allowed them to rise,
to ascend, and in turn to do good.

We don’t have to look very far to see deflated spirits,
folk with shattered dreams,
and children with punctured aspirations.

But as disciples of Jesus
gifted with God’s own spirit at baptism, and again in confirmation
renewed at every eucharist
and uniquely celebrated on this dynamic feast,
we are commissioned to inflate, to aerate
and to oxygenate those spirits and dreams and aspirations
so others can do good as well.

In other words, we are anointed to keep Pentecosting
to facilitator new and continuing gusts of God
no matter how modest or unseen,
so that the Holy Spirit can renew the face of the earth.

On my last day with the young theologian Samantha and her family
we visited a small but lively neighborhood festival.
There we saw a young girl, about Samantha’s age
holding in front of her a huge pink balloon
easily twice her size.

Suddenly, a kid whizzed by on his bike
and with some unseen instrument
jabbed at the balloon which dramatically exploded.

The girl was at first stunned and then began to cry.
Samantha gave me a “do something” look
then took the cash I pulled from my pocket
walked across the street to the balloon vendor
and bought a duplicate miniature dirigible
which she delivered to her new friend:
smile restored
spirit inflated
oxygen rendered
Pentecost reenacted.

If the church ever had a “do something” feast, it is this one
a feast prodding us to allow God’s energizing Spirit
to flow through us, together, as God remakes a world
filled with too many deflated lives and punctured dreams.

And so we invoke the poet’s blessing and pray:

This is the blessing
we cannot speak
by ourselves.

This is the blessing
we cannot summon
by our own devices,
cannot shape
to our purpose,
cannot bend
to our will.

This is the blessing
that comes
when we leave behind
our aloneness
when we gather
when we turn
toward one another.

This is the blessing
that blazes among us
when we speak
the words
strange to our ears

when we finally listen
into the chaos

when [at last] we breathe together …

Through Christ our Lord. Amen.