"And when the day of Pentecost was fully come …"
Pentecost is a day on the church calendar evangelicals rarely acknowledge. I've always wondered why. Each year as it rolls around a scene from the second chapter of Acts always swims in my reverie, calling to mind a rustic Oklahoma tent revival, where I first met the Holy Spirit. I was nine years old in the year when World War II ended. Hiroshima and Nagasaki each sounded a little like Native American tribes, and each had the same number of syllables as Oklahoma. I couldn't imagine exactly where they were, but the whole world had come to focus on their desperation. The adults in my world talked of little else. Pictures of these places, under headline letters thick as my young fingers, covered the newspapers black with smudgeable ink. My four older brothers-in-law would soon come home, those headlines said. Indeed, we thanked God that the possibility of their dying had passed.
In that very year of joy and cataclysm, the Pentecostals erected a tent. (There was little use in asking where the Pentecostals got their tents. It was like asking where Ringling Brothers got their tents. Pentecostals had tents, that was all!) And they came to our town. Their big-top tabernacle rose above a swampy, snaky tent site and was as wind-billowed as the happy musical sounds that filled the canvas- like sails. The tent swayed but never fell, for it was held up by staked ropes, taut as the guitar strings that played along with the reedy accordions. The tent looked like a huge orange jack-o'-lantern, lit by dangling light bulbs, around which swarmed the candle-flies of August. Always with August came revivals, as medicine shows came with June. Both "shows" peddled their wares in canvas cathedrals, floored with wood chips, domed with tarpaulins, and pewed with two-by-twelve boards resting on concrete blocks.
I listened, sincerely and with fear. Who wouldn't? As Nagasaki yet smoldered, this red-eyed prophet told us of the great whore of Babylon who would fornicate with the Antichrist till blood flowed to the horses' bridles. I trembled as he warned us to make ready for apocalyptic hordes of frogs and locusts.
The burden was immense. I broke into tears. Emotion burned like fire through the sawdust chips.
Hell, dark as a gospel tent in a power outage, suddenly gaped like a black hole before me. I stood weeping, naked, foolish, and undone. What would I do if God should bring Gog to Garfield County? I knew not when Christ would come! Lucky for me, they sang an invitation: "Oh, do not let the word depart, and close thine eyes against the light, poor sinner harden not your heart, be saved, oh, tonight."
I had no choice. I had to fly to the arms of Jesus. I did. Wonder of wonders, He did all the hymn said: He snatched my feet from the miry clay and set me on the rock. I changed categories. I was saved.
Now I understood: Pentecost is not merely a day on the church calendar; it is fire and wind able to blow and burn anytime. The elation is inebriating. It comes suddenly like the wind of which Jesus said, The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. (John 3:8, KJV) And, like the Jerusalem pilgrims in the book of Acts, our elation must make us appear as though we have gotten "drunk on God," and the joy binds the ages. Jesus, in the Gospel of John passage on the Spirit, speaks of being born again. The Acts passage on the Spirit ends with a mass conversion of pilgrims. Conversion is always the work of the Spirit of God.
There is a fire loose in the world linking Jerusalem and Oklahoma. The integrating Spirit is there … and will always be. Who knows where the wind may yet blow? Where the flame may yet surprise us? Such a fire is ever in us even when it hides, waiting to reveal itself where the coldness of reason freezes.
Holy Spirit, breathe on me,
Until my heart is clean.
Let sunshine fill its inmost part,
With not a cloud between.
Adapted from An Owner's Manual for the Unfinished Soul, Waterbrook Press, 1997.