My daughter has a book about unusual animal friendships. It hits every mark for cuteness: miniature animals, golden retrievers, implausible successe. Rather than being sticky sweet, though, the book offers a generosity of spirit. Animals are delightful, but wherever you find it the redemptive nature of love is no joke.
The other day we read a story about a mean, biting miniature horse (Spanky) who finds friendship and reconciliation with an obnoxious terrier puppy (Dally). One day the dog launches itself up onto the miniature horse’s back (it’s not quite three feet tall), and from then on they are inseparable. Where the humans and other horses have failed to domesticate the horse, the dog succeeds Where the humans have failed to manage the dog’s constant barking and anxiety, the horse teaches him a sense of calm and discipline. There’s a real sense of hope; the stories are so implausible you can’t help but think everything will be okay. Reading together this week, it struck me that these animals are a Pentecost story; somehow, they speak each other’s language.
When the early church had gathered they knew something was brewing, that Jesus would make a new thing happen as they reassembled themselves after the Ascension. But they couldn’t possibly have imagined the tongues of fire, and they definitely were not planning on that multi-lingual riot of sound.
Pentecost offers a truth we so often resist: the dream of God is of diversity, not sameness.
The different languages spoken by the people of Jerusalem were intact; they didn’t suddenly all break into Greek or Aramaic so they could communicate together. The gift was the bridging of difference, not its erasure. Pentecost tells us, once and for all, that we don’t have to be the same.
In our human limitation, we long for conformity and fear difference. But the Pentecost story is the Spirit giving us the gift of ourselves, as ourselves, alongside others. This is a hard lesson to absorb as an adult, and a place where we are often led by our children. How often do we look for refuge in sameness, rather than listening for what comes between us? How often do we mute aspects of ourselves for fear of judgment, when our kids openly disagree, argue, and reconcile?
This is not to silence the truth of sin. Being who they are openly can be literally life threatening for those who suffer oppression due to race or gender identity or religion or sexuality. Pentecost gives not only a gift, but a charge, to build a world where the Spirit can move. Pentecost calls us to open our ears as well as our hearts, to move our feet as well as our mouths.
This Pentecost, of course, I want to receive the Holy Spirit. I’ll wear red shoes under my alb (I’m an all-black kind of person, so this will be a stretch). I’ll pray for the birthday of the church, and implausible prophecy, and love across difference. And if a miniature horse comes and bites me, I will know to look for a puppy to calm it down.
[Image credit: Public Domain via Pexels]