As Christian we are Pentecost people gifted in the Spirit: There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God – writes St Paul in the 1 Corinthians. But these gifts of service and work – all stemming from the same Grace – all gifted in order to build up the Body of Christ – these gifts are founded upon the deeper gifts of the Spirit given: wisdom, understanding, counsel, courage, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord (cf. Isaiah 11). I have been thinking about the gift of courage.In some sense, the entirety of Lent and the Easter season is a lesson in courage – its failures and its glories. The Apostles suffered from a failure of courage – not one of them is present at the foot of the cross in most of the gospel accounts of the crucifixion. The disciples are people who locked themselves in the upper room “for fear of the Jews” (Acts 2) I mean their world had come apart at the seams. The one they thought was the Messiah had been scourged and crucified, died and was buried. The very breath of life was being sucked out of them by the horror of Calvary and what fate now awaited them.
But there were stories of the Risen Jesus appearing to disciples. Maybe they are source of Hope – but what if the stories were true, is there now something else to fear? What if Jesus’ first words are “Where were you when I needed you most.” But those are not his first word. All the appearance accounts have Jesus’ greeting and his presence instill peace and healing in the midst of fear and turmoil – making room for courage.
Last weekend we celebrated the Solemnity of the Ascension – in its own way another lesson in courage. The disciples thought they had lost Jesus in crucifixion and death, only to have the resurrected Christ appear amongst them, giving them hope. And then he leaves them behind, telling them to wait for the Spirit. And then he ascends to heaven out of sight. Gone. Left behind. Betwixt and between.
I wonder if the disciples were people of a certain temperament – are suited for action, not waiting. But it takes a certain courage to wait. To hold on to Hope, when there does not seem a clear or good reason to do so. To hold on to Faith, when doubts and whispers arise all around us. To wait for a sign, a signal, to wait for the Spirit. The courage of waiting…
A friend of mine attended Florida State and was part of the FSU Circus – we are both old enough now that we can say “sometime last century.” During her last two years in Tallahassee she was part of the trapeze act. In trapeze there are catchers and flyers. She was a flyer – that daredevil who is hurled through the heavens in those moments that stop our hearts, make us catch our breath – in moments that thrill and entertain us. The one who has the courage to wait and the courage to act.
When you first learn the trapeze, the beginning period of training is really a catcher-to-catcher handoff. There is no point at which you are truly flying, free of the safety of the catcher’s firm grip. And you wait, knowing the time is coming when the coach says that you are ready to fly. And the waiting for that word, only introduced another waiting. Waiting while the catcher swings, setting up the timing – the sign, the signal that now is the time … and the whole world slows, time elongates, extends and the waiting seems like forever.
I imagine those 10 days between the Ascension and Pentecost was like that – posed on the edge of left behind and the coming of the Spirit. Maybe the heart beginning to race in anticipation, maybe the breath becoming deeper, the muscles tensing, the edginess makes itself know. And then comes the Spirit
Just like the trapeze. The timing is there, the catcher is ready – the waiting is over – but you need courage to accept the gift given, accept all you have prepared for, a step off the platform and the moment…. at the perfect moment…. To fly, to let go and fly.
My friend showed me pictures of her days as the trapeze flyer. She is suspended in mid-air, free. Her back was arched, her arms up-raised heavenward, and eyes closed. Eyes closed. Not in fear – but in waiting.
She said that the hardest thing to learn is to learn to be caught as opposed to grabbing on. What can happens if the flyer tries to “catch” then both flyer and catcher are grabbing and all that happens is that both grips are knocked clear. And the flyer then plunges earthward into the safety net. The flyer needs to learn to be caught. Have the courage to completely, thoroughly trust. To learn to have complete faith in the catcher. To fly is to have the courage that one will be caught, will be raised up, all will happen according to plan.
Isn’t that a lot like Pentecost? Courage to wait while one prepares. The courage to act to step off our earthbound places where we think safety resides. Courage to trust in the gifts we have been given. Courage to close your eyes and be caught. Courage to be Lifted up
The Apostles were Pentecost people, stepping out to fly to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, Gaza, Rome and to the ends of the earth. They are flying into mission, propelled by the Spirit, the life of fishermen behind, the unknown world as apostles and missionaries lays ahead. And will forever lay ahead of them the rest of their days. They are filled with the courage of flyers. Their faces filled with the joy of God, their arms raised upward in worship – certain that they will be caught, certain that they will be raised up according to God’s plan.
We are Pentecost people gifted in the Spirit – yet mostly earthbound I suspect – yet called to be flyers. Will we be people who reach and grab – at all the wrong things and all the wrong times – forever falling earthward. Or will we be people in the free fall of parenting, work, ministry, play, and all the activities of life – will we allow ourselves to be propelled by the Spirit the rest of our days? Will we be flyers to fly in life and be raised to everlasting life. It takes the Gift of Courage – the gift already given us.