Mighty winds and little breezes

  • May 2, 2013

Elinor had been trying to mend a family relationship but found it ever more broken. She had done all she could think to do, including incessant prayer.

Elinor is what you might call a healthy skeptic. A little like Thomas, ideas and concepts are not enough for her; she needs to feel flesh-and-blood reality. Her deep faith in God was being tested by the lack of improvement in the family. Over coffee, she told me she’d begged God to send some sign of His presence: a flower. And there was no flower.

As the conversation proceeded, I thought: “I guess it was silly to ask for a sign like that. Maybe God doesn’t work that way.” Then: “But it wasn’t much to ask, and she needed it. We trusted Him, and He didn’t come through.”

What does it mean to trust God? Does it mean abandon- ing all our senses, all our reason, our understanding of how things work? We easily give up on Him, deciding He doesn’t exist, doesn’t care or can’t do what we need. Or we find excuses for Him. I don’t know if it’s silly to ask God for signs. I know we need to hear from Him, and it’s natural to turn to things we can see, touch and taste for witness of Him. And even to challenge Him — as in the movie Cool Hand Luke, with the broken protagonist out in a thun- derstorm, daring God to strike him by lightning: “Something, anything, just so I know you’re there.”

Many dismiss faith as “nonsense” and “fairy tales.” Their challenge urges us to do our work. Sometimes we lapse into letting Christianity become fairy tales, stories we tell without expecting much from them, external to us and untested. This isn’t enough for a suffering world: young adults unable to find a direction in life; acts of furious violence bursting out among ordinary people in ordinary places, like malls and marathons; entire nations afflicted

by starvation, like Niger’s recent food crisis. If we can’t draw on our faith in the pain and chaos, why bother?

It’s hard to do it alone. We need each other. We may resist this need, but Christians aren’t independent. It’s in the gathering that the house is shaken and the world changed. Such a house gathering is the setting of one of our Christian faith-stories. Not individuals dispersed and fleeing — like at Gethsemane — but “all together in one place,” the upper room. They’ve encoun- tered the risen Christ, not once but many times, and have shared the stories with each other. Into their gathering-place a mighty wind comes rushing, a flame of fire comes upon each person, an energy bursts open from within (Acts 2:1-13). Is this another Christian fairy tale, nice to recount at Pentecost with fetching red vestments? Can we turn to our own gathering and discover within us a fiery spirit (make that Spirit)? Can it give us energy to speak in our streets in a language people there can understand?

Often, we don’t feel like mighty winds or great fires, but thin wavering flames. But Isaiah tells us God won’t quench the wavering flame (42:3). No, God seems to know how to kindle the dampest wood. A little like me, as I listened to Elinor’s sadness about her family, and tried to find excuses for God’s failure to give her a flower.

Elinor and I walked out of the coffee shop. Growing up through the cracks of the sidewalk were tiny blue scilla, the first flower of spring. On an impulse, I picked one and handed it to her. Her face changed. “I did get a flower,” she exclaimed. The answer had been in the story all along, but we hadn’t recognized it. A few days before, through a friend, the family member whom Elinor was distressed about had sent her a potted tulip. She’d told me this story, but neither of us heard it. Until now.

Somehow, it needed both of us together. And it needed the little sidewalk flower.

Often, we prefer to walk alone. God finds ways to bring us to each other. Often, we get stuck in our heads, our ideas and concepts. God makes Himself known through the things around us, like wind and fire, flowers, bread and wine, and even one another. That’s why the Church is the life of the world: it’s Christ present in the world, not outside it, in our family conflicts, our inability to communicate, our tendency to despair.

Here, in today’s need and hope, we learn to trust God, expecting Him to bring life where there’s death, and peace where there’s strife. Glorious little flames of faith and hope are burning all over the place. The Holy Spirit fills us all.

We don’t need to await God’s coming into in our world, in its aching need to have God in it with us. He’s here.

(Marrocco can be reached at marrocco7@sympatico.ca.)