This blog is in celebration of Pentecost Sunday, May 28.
Katerina Gea pastors Wild Church Fresno (California), an MC USA congregation that gathers outdoors, near the San Joaquin River on Yokuts and Mono homelands in central California. She organizes faith communities for Indigenous justice with the Coalition to Dismantle the Doctrine of Discovery and enjoys poetry and dancing for joy. Katerina graduated from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary with an M.Div. in theology and peace studies in 2016.
Have you ever paused in a forest or a city park to listen to the sounds of the birds? They are all around us, communicating in languages most of us cannot understand. One story I love about St. Francis of Assisi tells of the humble saint preaching the gospel to the birds. I imagine a flock of sparrows surrounding him, listening and nodding, hearing the gospel of Creator’s love for the whole earth, enfleshed in Jesus. I wonder if the birds preached back in their own tongues, singing good news back to St. Francis and the rest of creation in notes that, perhaps, he could understand.
Before my recent ordination as a Wild Church pastor, I walked down to the San Joaquin River to pray, and I saw an emerald-winged, magenta-throated Anna’s Hummingbird hovering over the waters in a patch of willow trees. Male hummingbirds’ high-pitched chirp apparently comes from their tail feathers on a downward dive, and often, I hear them before spotting their tiny forms. This exquisite bird has become special to our faith community and has appeared to us during baptisms and other gatherings at the river, like the Spirit who came down as a dove upon Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan.
Anna’s Hummingbird represents the Spirit in our midst today, abundantly poured out over all creation.
In Acts 2, when the day of Pentecost came, the Holy Spirit fell over the disciples in Jerusalem and loosened tongues to speak in the languages of Jewish peoples from all over the known world. Wherever the Spirit falls, linguistic and cultural diversity abounds! After the Spirit fell on Pentecost, Peter stood and quoted the prophet Joel (2:28) to the astonished crowds, “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (Acts 2:17 ESV). All flesh in Joel describes not only humans, but also the more-than-human world. Unique as we are, it seems that we humans are not the only flesh-bearers of the Spirit of God. What if biodiversity, not only linguistic and cultural diversity, is also a sign of the Spirit’s creative outpouring among us? Wherever the Spirit falls, biodiverse life abounds!
In these times of apocalyptic crises, we are losing the languages of birds and other creatures at astonishing rates. A recent study found that 3 billion birds — over 1 in 4 — have disappeared since 1970. Billions of songs have been silenced, and along with them, over 1 million insects, plants and other interdependent species are threatened with extinction. Signs and portents — “blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke” (Acts 2:19, Joel 2:30-32) — speak of the last days, with each catastrophic wildfire and oil spill. Human language diversity is declining hand in hand with biodiversity, as an increasingly powerful economic system teeters upward, like a modern Tower of Babel, colonizing all forms of diversity with the lonely language of one global market.
“Do not quench the Spirit,” Paul warns in 1 Thessalonians 5:19. The apostle’s warning to those living in the last days is still relevant today. Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” came as a wake-up call in 1962 about the impacts of chemical toxins in our environment, a warning about the silencing of birdsong. Environmental protections resulted from a spiritual awakening during that time, and some bird species rebounded, due to human actions. Today, our lives are bound up in systems that are quenching the Spirit through fossil fuel pollution and extraction of the gifts of God’s living earth, stealing from future generations at any cost. Yet an awakening is happening through movements of environmental justice around the world, empowered by the same Spirit that breathes all life into being.
The Spirit will not be silenced!
This Pentecost weekend, Wild Church Fresno will be hiking in the Sierra Nevada foothills. We’ll pause along the way to listen for the melodious chirp of Dark-eyed Juncos, the percussion of Acorn Woodpeckers and the unceremonious squawk of Stellar Jays. Perhaps we’ll encounter our beloved Anna’s Hummingbird, waiting for us near the snow-melted creek. We’ll listen for the Spirit’s preaching at all times in a myriad of languages, and we will pray that our hearts and minds will be opened to understand, believe and live according to the good news for all creation. Let us pray for the Spirit’s fresh pouring out over all the earth and for us to know the Spirit alive in all flesh!
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.
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