June 4, 2017 - Pentacost

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 in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,
which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

Acts 2:1-11

Setting aside the pyrotechnics, what is it that happened here?

It has most of the classic hallmarks of an I/Thou experience in the tradition of Martin Buber: (i)  it was non-verbal, (ii) it was unexpected and the participants did nothing to prepare for it – no contemplative prayer, no charitable works, nothing, (iii) it was an encounter with the divine – Abraham Heschel would say it was characterized by “radical amazement”; Rudolph Otto might call it “mysterium tremendum et fascinans”, (iv) It did not make the participants more moral, necessarily, but radically changed them nonetheless, and (vi) the participants were made radiant in the splendor of the encounter and realized their most essential, existential selves – what Kierkegaard would call a “Single One”.

I argue in my book, Faith on a Stone Foundation, that all revelation looks like this: Moses’s receipt of the Ten Utterances and Buddha’s enlightenment under the bodhi tree (both take place under the first new moon of the Spring), St. Paul’s Damascus Road encounter, The Transfiguration, Jesus’s Baptism, etc., etc., etc…  

For a Scriptural faith, we rarely think about the process by which our Scripture is transferred from the divine to the human.  We reflexively think of it as a dictation. This leads to literalism.  More likely, each was a non-verbal encounter leaving the human recipient the task of reducing it to words.  

Image: Martin Buber