A collection of individuals fills this painting, signifying Mary and the first followers of Jesus. They are looking in different directions at the moment when the great whooshing wind and the flames of the Holy Spirit come down upon them. Caught up in the movement of the wind and flames, they are pushed forward into a celebration that is turned outward, and toward the darkness that lies beyond. The fire of the Spirit blows in and through them, not just around and over them. And they are swept forward into the future, in common mission.
We have a challenge imagining this moment. Our culture emphasizes the particularity of personal experience, and differences between us. We hear much talk about diversity and inclusion, which might reflect a positive regard for community. But it may also reflect an assumption that, apart from our efforts to bring people together, we are separate and disconnected. Perhaps, on the day of Pentecost, some of the people dramatically experienced God’s power. But we may be surprised to hear that all of them did, and together!
We don’t appreciate how community is vital to individual human flourishing. We often want individual freedom without personal accountability to others, and individual opportunity without personal responsibility. Being in community with other people may seem to be occasionally beneficial, especially when it is on our terms. But we don’t see it as essential to our lives.
In the ancient biblical vision, we are created in community, and we are redeemed in community. Whether we experience it or not, after Baptism God abidingly dwells between us and within us. There is no distance between us and God, even if we perceive a disconnection within ourselves. Whether we are conscious of it or not, God pours out grace to us in revelation and in inspiration. This is why God encourages us to open ourselves in prayer to his abundant gifts. All are blessed, for all receive a full measure of the Holy Spirit in Baptism. And all are commissioned by the fire of the Holy Spirit to engage in mission wherever we are, at home, at school, at work or at play. All are called to share in the beauty of Christ in community.
The Pentecost painting is found on the website, http://www.buildfaith.org. See Acts 2 for the Pentecost story.