I have never experienced the oncoming of a tornado. The description I hear often, however, is about how it sounds like an approaching freight train. Atmospheric scientists have a lot to say about the study of wind. I remember a conversation with a meteorologist in a parish hall during my Sunday visitation concerning wind shear that told me more about wind than I would ever have imagined. It is wonderfully complex and intricate. Yet I do like the description of a sixth grader who reduced her observation of wind to, “It is like air, only pushier.”
In Acts the people of God had gathered to celebrate the Feast of Weeks, fifty days after Passover. They were giving God thanks for the first fruits of the winter grain. They also, as faithful Jewish people, were commemorating the giving of the Torah, the Jewish law, to the nation of Israel. This was the occasion of the gathering that brought Jesus, the Apostles and Jesus’ mother, other family members and friends into one place. The description of the wind coming upon this particular group tells us it would take an extraordinary movement of God to bring unity to a world that too often seems bent on separation and estrangement. Sometimes we seem better at building walls than tearing them down. The chaos of the world calls for a new ordering, a new commonality. Nothing less than a pushy, gale force can bring God’s justice to a world too often given to destruction rather than the breath of peace.
The miracle of Pentecost is at least two-fold. Each was speaking the language of the other and they understood one another. In a desert father story, Arsenius asked an elderly Egyptian monk some questions and another overhearing them commented, “Abba Arsenius, you have a strong education in Latin and Greek. Why do you discuss anything with this peasant?” He replied, “True. I have knowledge of Latin and Greek, but I do not yet know this man’s alphabet.” What if we brought that attitude to every conversation, every political discourse, honoring the dignity of every tribe, language, people and nation?
The other miracle is how those gathered are transformed from the closed forum to go out into the public square. The surge of the Spirit, that pushy air of breath and creativity, moves the fledgling church out of the upper room into Jerusalem. That same Spirit pushes us out of our own church enclosures into the board room, the school room, the surgery waiting room, the grocery store, the high school, the assembly line, the halls of Congress – anywhere and everywhere in order to breathe the hope of God’s Spirit on all. The Book of Acts tells us, quoting Joel, that this Spirit was poured out on ALL flesh. This is God’s dream of the unity of all people. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, “He lives most life whoever breathes the most air.”