A number of years ago I bought a book called The Clockwork Muse. It was designed to encourage writers and other “creative” types to work to a deadline, not sit around waiting for their muse to appear. It specifically addressed the problem of having a large project—a book, a dissertation—to complete. While there’s something to be said for inspiration, there’s also a lot to be said for simply showing up to the blank page day in and day out, cranking out words, writing and rewriting. Often the inspiration appears within that process.
Each November, a group of people joined mostly in virtual online communities celebrate National Novel Writing Month, abbreviated as NaNoWriMo. While it might be a celebration of quantity over quality, its goal is to get people past the fear of imperfection that keeps them from taking the first step.
Pentecost is very much a feast about the words we use to communicate the Word that is Jesus Christ. And it’s clear from the Scripture readings for the feast that the goal is communication rather than some perfect phrase carved into stone.
The first reading for the vigil Mass tells the story of the tower of Babel. It’s a story of pride and power, of joining together for the purpose of exalting the self rather than working within God’s plan. And the writer of Genesis tells us that this plan was confounded when the people were no long able to understand one another’s language.
The reading from the Acts of the Apostles on Pentecost Sunday tells the story of those language divisions being healed as the onlookers heard Peter and the others speaking in their own languages. It was the hearing rather than the speaking that was affected. The apostles were able to act as clear channels for the revealed word of God.
Pentecost, like all the events highlighted in the Easter season, is a larger-than-life occurrence. It can be tempting to look at it from a safe distance, to believe that the fire of the spirit came to rest only on those gathered in the Upper Room. In much the same way that we revere a handful of truly great writers, we say that Mary and the apostles were singled out for this great gift. But in truth we have all received the gift of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation. We don’t spend our lives waiting for the Spirit to show up. That inspiration is already within our souls.
Pentecost is a wonderfully fluid feast. The story begins in the Upper Room, with Mary and the apostles gathered in prayer. Then we have the strong, driving wind and the tongues of fire. But the culmination of the Pentecost event finds Peter and the others preaching in the temple precincts, telling the story of Jesus of Nazareth, encouraging all those listening to believe in this great mystery.
We need to take time to pray. We need to read the Scriptures, to be immersed in our Catholic tradition. We need to discover the spirit within. But more than anything else, our job is to show up to life each day, ready to share that spirit in ways that are unique to us. If we are faithful to communicating the spirit of God to those around us, we can trust that they will hear the message they need to hear.
Photo credit: (CNS/The Crosiers)