Every Nook and Cranny

Today is also one of the church’s moveable feast days, and used to be the second-most honored feast day, only second to Easter: Pentecost, Fire Hazard and Freedom-Giver.

Pentecost highlights the “shy person of the Trinity,” the Holy Spirit. She is unleashed upon the disciples as they are scared and huddled in an upper room, unsure of what to do.

At this same moment it just so happened that people from all the known world were gathered in Jerusalem for a festival…and the symbolism here should not be overlooked.

The Holy Spirit will infuse the world.

The disciples are described as appearing as if they had “flames on their heads.” It’s kind of akin to that time Moses was descending from Sinai and his “face was shining,” or that burning bush moment earlier in Exodus where the flame didn’t consume the shrub. The idea here is that they were glowing with Divine power and wisdom, and it doesn’t consume them, but rather sets them free.

And in this moment, which is a Divine reversal of the Tower of Babel story in Genesis, everyone understands that God is for them in their own language and context, everyone thoughout the known world gathered there.

Pentecost is not a story of God empowering a few to give to the many what they don’t already have, but a story of God unleashing herself upon humanity so that Divine wisdom and saving grace is seen and known in every nook and cranny of creation.

Which should, I think, make us more open to the experiences and ideas of others, especially because they glow with what the Celts called “the spark of Divine life,” just like those disciples glowed that day.

Pentecost is a reminder to me, and should be for the whole church, that Divine grace and wisdom shows up everywhere, like new wine surprising us at every sip.

-commentary my own

-icon written by Jim Whalen

Zeal is Not Wisdom

Today the church remembers 8th Century Saint Boniface, Archbishop and Missionary.

Boniface was born with the name Wynfrith (love it!) in Devonshire England in the late 7th Century. When his father fell ill he was sent to a Benedictine school, and then monastery, where he was ordained. It was there that he wrote a Latin grammar book for scholastic use, and several poems.

When Wynfrith turned 40 he began his missionary work in Germany and the Netherlands. The anti-Christian sentiment in the area was strong, though, and he returned back to his native England, eventually succeeding his abbot at Nursling. He didn’t last long in that position, though, and resigned to petition Pope Gregory II for a missionary assignment.

Pope Gregory II approved it, and gave him the name Boniface, which means “to do good.”

He returned to what is now modern day Germany and, after trial and error, finally succeeded in establishing a monastery in Hesse.

With such success, the Bishop of Rome consecrated him bishop for the German frontier, even though there wasn’t a fixed diocese there. To show bravery, Boniface cut down the sacred oak tree of Thor, and though many expected Thor to strike him down with lightening or illness, Boniface remained perfectly healthy. Because of this, many were converted. Out of the wood of that tree he built a chapel in honor of St. Peter.

Pope Gregory III (popular name) elevated Boniface to archbishop in 732, and was eventually given the see of Mainz as his jurisdiction after the bishop of Mainz, Gewiliob (love it!), admitted to killing his father’s murderer.

At sunrise on June 5, 754, at Dokkum, Boniface, while reading the Gospel to a group of neophytes on Pentecost, was attacked by a pagan mob and killed on the job. His remains, and the Gospel book he was reading from at his death, can still be seen at Fulda.

Boniface is a mixed bag for me. He was obviously dedicated and zealous for the faith. But in his spiritual zeal he committed religious tyranny against those he was sent to serve. To take a sacred object, Thor’s tree, and create another sacred object of a different creed, St. Peter’s church, is religious violence.

That kind of violence totally goes against not only my own code of inter-faith work, but also that of my church.

Yet I do admire his willingness to serve in uncharted territory, and his willingness to leave a comfortable job (being the abbot of a monastery is no small thing!) to enter the unknown. That takes courage…I just wish he’d had a little more wisdom with it.

Or, maybe this is what I mean to say: I wish he’d lived up to his name, “Boniface,” and did more good than he did.

-historical notes taken from Pfatteicher’s “New Book on Festivals and Commemorations”