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Porch Light

By Stephen Berg

05/27/2015

Pentecost’s crack of light

I was nine years old. It was “sports day” in small-town Saskatchewan. Everyone in the known universe was there. I had six dimes in my Red Tag jeans — money my mother had given me to spend at my wild discretion. My favourite food, Fudgsicles, were a convenient 10 cents each.

While savouring my first of the day I noticed that I was being watched — a boy, younger than I was, bare feet, bad clothes, his body a smudge, his small face turned to me.

I walked over and gave him one of my dimes. He bought a Fudgsicle and came back and stood beside me. I gave him the rest of my dimes. We stood together behind the chicken-wire fence watching a ball game. Me, elated, and no clue why — him, grinning and dripping chocolate.

I know this kind of experience is not unique to me. I have a notion that these little cracks of light are given to us as signs of what it is to be truly human. I also know that I have betrayed this experience and its meaning a thousand times. I didn’t have to study to be self-absorbed, or secretly competitive, or biased; I didn’t have to study to identify and objectify other groups — I picked it up quite naturally.

So even today, when I hear the word Pentecost, I think of a particular stripe of Christianity and a particular way of being a Christian. But Pentecost is not a denomination. Pentecost — this time that marks the beginning of Ordinary Time in the Christian liturgical calendar — is all about the undoing of division.

While the ancient story of the Tower of Babel describes a world fractured through misunderstanding, and scattered by subsequent tribal wars and blood-feuds, Pentecost is the radical coming together of the broken and the undoing of confusion and misunderstanding.

The book that follows on the heels of the Gospels brings this account of their effect through images of wind and flame. On the day of Pentecost, Peter and his band were suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in languages that “all the nations under heaven” could understand. In this contagion of clarity all the barriers were being burned and blown away.

But Peter had to learn the deeper meaning of his own blazing experience and was given a dream. It was a reccurring dream that swept away traditional and revered classifications and finally ended with Peter’s face to face receiving of someone culturally, historically, and religiously outside of his circle. Of this Peter explains, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”

It was Peter’s time to stand beside his new friend, elated, barely comprehending the revolutionary beauty and possibility of his inclusive act. Through this opening in the clouds, Peter saw the sacredness of all things and was moved to act.

But it’s hard. We forget and forfeit those cracks of light, those times we were alive. We fall to the neat divisions of us and them because it’s easier to be over and above, than to love. Easier to manufacture division then to merge with differences and work creatively within. Achingly hard to find our meaning beyond division because from childhood we’ve found a form of identity through the exclusion of others. Some of us even call this the gift of discernment. Thinking it a skill valuable for staying on the righteous side of some line.

The manufacturing of division pretends to give us meaning. But the story of Pentecost gives us our true meaning — in love, in inclusion, in beauty, in seeing the earth, our world, as holy, as sacred, as one.

Berg works for Hope Mission, a social care facility for homeless people in Edmonton’s inner city. His poetry and prose have been in staged performances and have appeared in such publications as the Edmonton Journal, Orion, Geez, and Earth Shine. He blogs at growmercy.org