Lake Como, Italy
The Fire Trail, my sixth novel, has now been released into the world to fly on its own, and so we have flown as well, to Lake Como for a time of rest and re-creation. Settling into our hotel, we are recovering from the 20-hour trip, flying San Francisco-Newark-Milan, and the challenge of today’s airports, especially for the frail and elderly.
This morning, from our balcony, I hear the buzz of a weed-cutter clearing the hillside. Swallows chirp in the garden next door where visitors wander neat paths and beyond our terrace steep green-forested mountains descend to the long blue lake. I know, but cannot see from here, snow-capped Alps anchor the northern tip of the finger of water like winter queens on their thrones. Now, in the peace of a northern May morning, I consider yesterday’s Festival of Pentecost, a wondrous holy-day, and all that it means.
The images of Pentecost are powerful, a great distance from the gentle Jesus of mainline Protestantism. As the disciples await their Lord’s Holy Spirit promised at His ascension, they must have been fearful, wondering, and even doubtful. Their human limitations, just like ours, must have shadowed them, as they waited in hiding in Jerusalem.
And then it happened:
And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2)
They were transformed. No longer fearful, they left the safety of their Jerusalem room and entered the danger of the Jerusalem streets, no longer in hiding, speaking in other languages of the “wonderful works of God.” Soon they found they had other powers, powers to heal, to endure, to inspire, to give others the power of the Holy Spirit, in a long succession through years and centuries to this day, to this moment, our moment in time, through Baptism, Confirmation, and Ordination.
The Feast of Pentecost is the fiat (meaning let it be done) moment for us all, a time we as children of God, say “yes” to Him, let it be done as He wills. For Mary said “yes” and was filled with the Holy Ghost, to nurture and give birth to God’s Son. We too, can say “yes.” We too, can be filled with His fire.
Lately I have been editing the sermons of our dear Bishop Morse, and reflecting from time to time on my last year with him, his last words. When we talked about the turmoil of our world, our church, even our local parishes, I often waited for an answer to why, some explanation for it all, and most of the time he would say, “He (or she) said yes to God. He (or she) didn’t say yes to God. That’s why. They didn’t open the door.” He would raise his brows, shake his head in wonderment, and his eyes would search mine to see if I saw too, if I understood. I did, for when you say yes, you ask that His will become yours. Let it be done. Fiat.
I have often thought of those words and their simplicity, as truth often is, right in front of us, staring at us, waiting for our response.
It is not always easy to say yes, and we often forget once we have said it. The Baptized forget who they are. The Confirmed do not remember. The Ordained look away. But if we have said yes, God will not forsake us. Then swords shall pierce our hearts, and nails shall wound our flesh. We shall know the despair of darkness, rimmed by the hope of light. In those times of terrible twilight and deepest dawn we must remember to breathe “Jesus” in and out, refilling our souls. We must remember to pray the Our Father, holding onto the words that will pull us to shore, that will give us life, that will save us.
Pentecost. They gathered on this Jewish festival day to remember the giving of the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai and were given a different kind of knowledge, commandment, and power. The English Church in time came to call Pentecost “Whitsunday,” White Sunday, for it was a traditional day of Confirmation, when the Confirmands wore white. Confirmation, of course, is a renewal, a confirming, of our Baptismal vows (vows of our godparents for us or our own vows) and is another Holy Spirit descent upon us. In Baptism and Confirmation, we say yes to God. We open the door to His will becoming ours. Let it be done. Fiat.
The disciples said yes, and on that day in Jerusalem two thousand years ago they received the Holy Spirit. And so we call this the Birthday of the Church. The Church – the descendants of those disciples – has been saying yes ever since, or at least trying to.
Last night, the evening of Pentecost Sunday, we stood on our balcony overlooking Lake Como. As a half moon rose in a chilly dark sky, fireworks boomed from a barge on the lake. Brilliant light rose and shattered over the waters, drifting down and disappearing like falling stars. The bright diamonds flashed so near I thought I might take them in my hands. But of course it was an illusion, a dream, a longing desire.
But Pentecost fulfills that desire. The Holy Spirit does indeed descend upon us and we can truly open our palms, our hearts, and welcome Him. We can say yes. We can have that desire fulfilled.
Sometimes we say no, even after we said yes, and we must repent. We must turn around, recall our yearning and renew our yes. This chance, a repeated loving chance, is the glorious heart of the Gospel, the good news of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
My little novel, The Fire Trail, draws that crooked line that runs between saying yes and saying no, or even saying maybe. The way of yes is the way of love, of self-sacrifice for our brothers and sisters. The way of no is the way of unlove, of self-gratification. The way of yes is the way of civilization, be it Western, Eastern, Southern, Northern. The way of no is the way of the jungle, barbarism, darkness. Nihilism. Nothing.
I pray, as I watch the clouds gather over the snowy mountains, that I will keep saying yes and that God’s tongues of fire will continue to rebirth His Holy Church, to inflame us all with His will. Let it be done. Fiat.