Saturday, June 11, 2011

Wind beneath our wings (Reflections on the Solemnity of Pentecost, John 20:9-23)

Last Friday, the 10th of June, the heaviest and most spacious civil aircraft ever built landed at the Miami International Airport amid great fanfare and a spectacular welcome. The inaugural flight into Miami had 526 passengers. The Airbus A380 is a 237-foot long, 79-foot high, 421-ton plane that can carry as much as 150 tons.

A couple years ago, when news that these flying behemoths were finally taking to the air, a ton of articles and TV features came out showing how some of these planes would have fitness centers, health spas, conference areas and actual beds. Folks who happened to be passing by the Miami airport last Friday afternoon say it was quite a sight to see this magnificent piece of human engineering in flight and eventually landing.

I remember visiting the Smithsonian in DC and seeing the exhibit of the Wright Brothers' plane. Looking at the flimsy-looking contraption, I thought it was mind-boggling to think how aviation has come a long way from that simple plane to the airliners today that carry immense loads at top speeds.

Just think of all the weight loaded into a plane whenever you fly. It’s amazing to think that these things even get off the ground.

The fact is, every time we fly, we sit in a marvel of human technology unthinkable just a hundred years ago. In 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright’s plane traveled a total of 20 feet in 12 seconds. That airbus that landed in Miami last Friday can fly more than 6,000 miles nonstop while carrying 421 tons of weight.

But what’s even more amazing is that both the very light Wright brothers’ plane and the monstrous A380 have one thing in common that makes both of them fly. It’s the wind beneath their wings. Wind, a very simple element of nature, is at the very heart of what gives lift to these marvels of human ingenuity. We don’t even notice it most of the time. And yet it is what carries a plane, allowing it to travel in air.

And yet, wind alone isn’t enough. Wind alone doesn’t explain how planes fly. Whether a hundred years ago or today, flying, longer, heavier and faster, is a combination of two things: human power and the power of nature. Human technology and the simple elements of nature work together and produce things that seem impossible.

What’s true of flight, is true of faith. If technology and wind give flight, God’s grace and our cooperation create faith and give it flight.

Today’s Feast of Pentecost, celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit on the disciples. The first reading tells us that after Jesus had left, they were all gathered together in one place. Imagine what the sight must have been. There they were, huddled in one room, still fearful and feeling orphaned by Jesus’ departure

They were not yet the strong and brave men and women who would one day give their lives for the faith.

Suddenly though, a mighty wind blew and the Holy Spirit came upon them as tongues of fire. Suddenly, they felt empowered. They were no longer afraid. They burst out of that dark room and began preaching the gospel.

Like the giant Airbus 380, these men and women who had heavy hearts, suddenly felt lifted up by a mighty wind. Suddenly they felt tremendous power coursing through them. They felt they could do anything. It was a truly amazing transformation!

Pentecost is a celebration of the power that God gives us, like the wind that raises a plane and gives it lift, seeming to defy gravity itself.

God’s Spirit is the wind beneath our wings. It is he who gives us courage and strength to defy great odds and do great things. It is he who empowers us.

“Receive the Holy Spirit”, Christ tells us in the gospel. If we believe in those words, we will accomplish great things. And there is no limit to the wonders God can do through us.

For Pentecost is also an invitation for us to cooperate with God’s action in our lives. It invites us to leave our own dark rooms where we lock ourselves up sometimes, just like the disciples.

And we all have our dark rooms. For some it is fear, sadness, an addiction perhaps, despair, and anger. For others it is perhaps the dark room of betrayal, frustration, loneliness, selfishness and sin. Whatever it might be, Jesus invites us today to leave that room behind.

He sends us his Spirit and commands us as he once commanded Lazarus: “Come forth”.

He says to each one of us: "Come out and leave the darkened areas of your life behind. Receive the Spirit and feel God’s power coursing through you. Receive the Holy Spirit and however heavy your burdens, they will be made light. Receive the Holy Spirit and see your spirit take flight".

Like the mighty Airbus 380, the Spirit can raise us up beyond anything we can imagine. Pentecost tells us that God has empowered us; and that power is there for our taking. Let us accept it into our hearts. So that like the disciples, on that magnificent Pentecost, we can finally leave the darkened rooms of our lives, and proclaim with all the faith, courage, and trust we the Spirit has given us: “With God I can accomplish anything”.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)