Purify my heart
Sunday, June 9, 2019
From Acts 2
When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house. Then there appeared to them tongues of fire, which parted and came to rest on each. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
It’s been fifty days. On this special Sunday, it is good to change the pronouns in the story of Pentecost: WE were all in one place together … there appeared to US tongues of fire … WE were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Come and join me. Imagine yourself into the story.
I’m in the corner there, in this upper room, sitting on the floor, half asleep, when all this starts and all this happens, and I jump up and we are shouting and laughing and praising God. I feel sweet tickles in my throat and my eyes fly wide open.
Jesus leans down and sits in front of me, cross-legged, like he does. I don’t think about where he came from; I just sit down with him. “So what do you think, David my son?”
And he continues, “What’s your body saying? How do you feel?’’
His trinity of questions settles on me. Fired by the Spirit and sitting with Jesus, I feel brilliant and pure. I know how true all this is. In the world there is always a bit of light torn by a bit of darkness. Here there is no shadow. My body rests.
What do I think? I remember two scenes from childhood.
* * *
In the Logan County country I mowed the lawn around our farmhouse, right up to the west side of the blacktop road. Briggs and Stratton roared to life and I pushed the mower round and round. No one could hear me, I guess, as I talked to myself about the world I created, cleaned, and claimed. I walked through it tall and strong with every sharp turn and sweep through the grass. This land was my land. The good earth and everything in it rejoiced in my dominion and received with joy the blessing I bestowed.
Later I discovered the sanctity of all life, so much more than just my own. But at the time, full of myself, I thought nothing of wounding, scaring, killing tiny creatures below the mower blade. Just as when I played the board game Risk, my only job was to dominate the world. That’s how you win! And the destruction which winning required felt pretty good, actually. I had no idea that this “light” brought with it so much dark.
When the mowing was done I burned our trash. In the country our burn barrel sat outside the back door, not far from clotheslines and garden. Holes rusted through the sides of that old barrel. I piled in the paper and the rest. With great anticipation I lit a kitchen match. Touched a piece of newspaper. The paper burst into flame and hypnotized me.
Again a world waited to be claimed. Sparks flew. Heat blew toward me off the barrel’s top. In time the fire dug into the pile. I stared at the rusty holes. Lowdown trash sat safe and still and unexpecting, and then suddenly it transformed into red, searing flame bright and hot. Unstoppable. A single wooden match did all that. And it was me that did the striking.
In just one afternoon, I created two worlds, and destroyed them. Only later did I hear the words from the Bhagavad Gita, the same ones Robert Oppenheimer heard, helpless in the fact of the atomic bomb he helped create: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
* * *
“This tongue of fire, Jesus, will it burn me up? Are you making me pure flame so I no longer know myself, no longer know?”
Jesus smiled. Like he does. He reminded me to notice how I felt, listen to what my body said. If my questions removed me from the moment, I could let my questions go. I felt suspended in thin air without them, but then I felt the heat on my head, the warmth in my hands, and that quiet, gentle tickle in my throat. I wanted to pull the cord on my mental mower and take charge again. But no, not really. That mower had no power here. Jesus was filling me with a far better gift.
“I want to touch hurting people and love them with your healing hands, Jesus.”
“And when you do, we are all twice blessed,” he said. “The quality of mercy is not strained; it drops as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.” Jesus knew all of Shakespeare’s best lines.
This reaching out, Lord, never knowing what will happen next, fills all my soul. Your brimming spirit pours over me when we embrace, and I’m covered, soaked, drenched and dripping with all this laughter, all this joy. I’ll have what you’re having, Jesus. Oh my God, I just can’t stop smiling.
On July 16, 1945 near Los Alamos, New Mexico, Robert Oppenheimer watched the Trinity nuclear test, the first successful detonation of an atomic bomb. “A few people laughed,” he said, “a few people cried, most of us were silent.” Oppenheimer remembered this famous 32nd verse of the Bhagavad Gita. Two years later, in the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Oppenheimer grieved. “In some sort of crude sense which no vulgarity, no humour, no overstatements can quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin, and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose.”
William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene I, 1600, first performed in 1605