I am so delighted to share these wise words about the Pentecost and the days that follow from the lovely Tara Owens, author of a wonderful new book Embracing the Body: Finding God in Our Flesh and Bone:
Tongues of Fire: What Our Bodies Tell Us About Pentecost
When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
If you’ve ever sat around a fire late at night, staring deeply into the flames, you know that combustion is deeply physical. The crackle of the wood, the smell of smoke, the dance of the flames as they produce light and heat. We experience fire with all of our senses, reflecting back to us the spark of the divine we know dwells within. And we are entranced by fire because it is both beautiful and dangerous, because it contains within it both life and death.
Pentecost is all about the revelation of holy fire. As those tongues of flame descended on the disciples, they were empowered to speak in languages they didn’t know, with a kind of life-force that made them seem drunk to those who couldn’t feel the heat. They knew the power of life and death was in those tongues (Pr. 18:21), the fire that had descended on them. So they spoke life, the wind of the Spirit rushing over their vocal cords and producing sounds that hummed across the airwaves and collided against the eardrums of their hearers.
We feel the fire of Pentecost crackling across our nerves, racing along the surface of our skin, every day. The tongues of fire don’t rest on us, they’ve moved within us, and they inhabit our bodies with the electricity of life. Just as then, our very bodies are the haven of the Holy Spirit. Just as then, fire rests on us in order to move through us.
If we take a moment to breathe, to be aware, we’ll feel Pentecost within us, the heat that our very core produces whether we’re in touch with it or not. Our bodies teach us about the dancing power of the Holy Spirit, if we’re willing to step away from the contempt and shame with which we have most often responded when our bodies produce fire.
You’ve felt it, haven’t you? Whether it was the sudden heat in your cheeks, or the warmth in your chest, or the flooding of your veins with electricity, you’ve felt the tongues of flame on you. It would be easy to relegate those embodied experiences to a simple hot flash, or a surge of embarrassment, or a feeling of deep love. And sometimes, the warmth is just those things, a fire contained in a hearth. But sometimes, God brings Pentecost to the room of our bodies, and if we’re willing to be of one accord with all of the parts of ourselves, we can experience the same glorious communion the disciples experienced.
These moments don’t have to be, and often aren’t, on the extraordinary scale made clear in the book of Acts. We more regularly feel them as an invitation to touch a friend with a healing hand, or to give to others by using the gifts of our strength or creativity. The tongues of flame ignite in us an awareness of the beauty of all life by rippling gently down our spine when we stand before a mountain lake. They warm us from the inside out when we gather with the holy community to celebrate and worship.
In this week of Pentecost, I invite you to listen to where your body’s fire is warming toward life, where the Spirit may be gently drawing you to attend and notice. If the fire kindles in your throat, or burns at the back of your eyes, or smolders in the joints of your fingers, pause to listen. Ask the Spirit to translate this holy language to you, because the Spirit loves to communicate across unusual divides. Perhaps you will hear the Gospel in your body in a new way, perhaps you will be intoxicated by a holy joy that has you dancing out God’s love in front of others.
Tara Owens is a writer, spiritual director and the Senior Editor of Conversations Journal. She founded Anam Cara Ministries in 2007 to provide a place dedicated to the practice of soul friendship, of coming alongside in order to facilitate healing, wholeness, holiness and spiritual formation. Visit her online at www.anamcara.com or purchase her new book, Embracing the Body: Finding God in Our Flesh and Bone here.