Pentecost: The central reading describes a meeting of the apostles fifty days after the Easter period, during which this windstorm came roaring through the room where they had hidden and locked themselves. But the words the writer used to describe it is not a storm, or hurricane, or whatever. He uses breath. The Hebrew and Greek for breath. So, from this point on, we know that we’re not dealing with an ordinary story. This is a symbolic tale. And an important one. Put simply, oversimply, actually, but it’s my story here so I can do it—we are being told that perhaps the best way to get a sense of the life of God is to think of breath—the breath of life.
Well, with this Covid crisis, and people, sick people, by the hundreds of thousands fighting just for the next breath of life—we know how important that simple ability to breathe in and out can be for us. Those of us who have been kept alive under oxygen, or worse—stood in silent agony by the side while someone we loved was depending on the next pump of that machine—we know what it is like to be so helplessly beaten so low. But even down there at the bottom of dependency I at least have had one support and help that I held onto: my imagination, my mind, or whatever it is; picturing people I held onto in my way, in pictured life, life I could go back to. And not just life, but a life that might be, freed from all that crap that waited for me to no purpose back home.
When I got back home months later, still a young man, I eventually made two decisions. First, I was not going to waste what time I had on other people’s dumb pet projects. There really can be some ‘no mores’ in life. And then I was going to go out and get a nice new pair of skis and boots—which I did on the anniversary of the attack.
Imagination is possibly the most undervalued asset in the human arsenal. It lifts us up. It helps people see life on the other side of what can function as their prison walls; or outside the iron bars that somehow I got locked behind when I was too young or too dumb to know what was going on. Or, worse, being done to me with no one to protect me, or who thought I was worth protecting.
The breath of God, as in these readings, can ram its ways through walls solid enough to put smiles of pride on the faces of Roman Governors. How did those absolute nobodies from nowhere crack open the military, commercial, agricultural and naval culture of the Roman Empire? From the highest points in Marseille to Ostia outside Rome, and Palermo (Paramus) in Sicily, those great Roman Ports now have towers with beautiful statues of Our Lady as the beacon for the cities—and lights of safety at night for their sailors at sea.
Imagination—real imagination that has spirit, not dollars, behind it—can have a tough time in our well-buttoned-up church today. We have to make room for it in little backwaters like our own here. Which we know we can do. And now it’s time.