Imagine four people.

Each is given a large glass jar.

Each, in turn, is instructed to return one with water, one with fire, one with earth, and one with wind in their respective jars.

Two return with their jars filled; two however return with their jars empty.

You can capture earth, and you can capture water.

Fire and wind remain elusive.

Yet, these are the two images used by the author of the Acts of Apostles to describe God’s Spirit.

“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.

“Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.

“They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.

“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2: 1 – 4)

Greek philosophy supposed the Universe to comprise four elements: Fire, Water, Earth, and Air.

These are well-known and yet unknown realities.

Of the four elements only earth has fixed shapes; and in the long run, even these shapes are not fixed (remember liquefaction?

A word that was added to many a vocabulary with the occasion of the Christchurch earthquake!)

In Hebrew and Aramaic, scholars tell us, the same word means ‘spirit’, ‘breath’, and ‘wind’. This word is “ruah”.

Fire and wind as earth elements can at times be devastating. We only need remember the horror of bush fires raging and of cyclonic winds.

I, and no doubt others, so want to tame God’s Spirit; to make this Energy acceptable!

In doing so maybe we are attempting to suck God’s life out of God!

It may be time we put our glass jar away and refrain from catching our God! The “elusive one” is not for catching!

The alternative to “catching” is “being caught”.

That is what happened that first Pentecost day – may it continue today!

Feast of the Ascension of the Lord

The departure lounge at a transport hub—be it an airport, a bus, or a train station—is a place of mixed emotions.

A person(s) is leaving. Persons have come to say goodbye however they are staying.

Each goodbye is particular and indeed peculiar to everyone.

I can only name emotions that I have personally experienced; for others, the emotions may well be quite different.

As the one going, I feel a mixture of sadness at leaving those who are important and special, anticipation for what lies ahead, and no doubt a certain anxiety—where I had known friends as immediate contact and support, I might well be on my own.

As the one staying, I experience an equal mix of emotions.

There is pleasure for the one leaving—perhaps stepping out for the first time to a new place of learning or job opportunity, and there is also sadness that the one leaving will leave a hole—and it is to that hole I must return to and be reminded of with regularity.

The regular aroma of a particular scent or aftershave is no longer there!

The irrepressible laugh or chuckle of the other is no longer heard.

Toward the end of the Gospel of John, I find one of the most intimate moments in the entire Gospel. Jesus, newly risen from the dead, is standing on the shore of the lake,

“Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realise it was Jesus.

He called to them, “Friends, have you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”

When they did, they could not haul the net in because of the large number of fish. (Jn. 21:4 – 6).

It is that early morning call, piercing the approaching light, “Friends!”

On the feast of the Ascension, I suggest that before we run headlong into any theological discourse on the role of proclaiming the Good News (Mk. 15:15), we take a moment to reflect on the very real experience of friends saying goodbye.

These persons are as we are with all the mix of emotions that make us human.

Remember, too, one of those persons Jesus needs say goodbye to is his mother.


6th week of Easter

The illustration is of a single acorn, which when planted, may grow to a substantial oak tree.

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (Jn 15:9 – 17)

How can you be commanded to love? Surely love must be a free response, not an obligation. You can be commanded to obey, but how can you be commanded to love? How could Jesus say, “This is my commandment, that you love one another?”

Meister Eckhart (1260 -1328) threw a clear light on this conundrum. He said, “When I am thirsty, the drink commands me; when I am hungry, the food commands me. And God does the same [when he commands me to love].”

In other words, the command to love is not a command that is laid on us from the outside; rather, it is an inner command, an inner urgency placed in our very being by God – like hunger and thirst; or, you might say, like the urgency that an oak tree has to develop as an oak tree. It is not something alien, it is totally our own, and yet it is totally from God.

Jesus’ command to love contains a critical subordinate clause, “as I have loved you!” What was unique in the way Jesus loved?

No one was excluded: prostitutes, sinners, tax collectors all found a place of welcome at the table. Those with a physical and/or psychological ailment were touched. Those possessed in some way were touched as they were possessed.

Where Jesus stretches us beyond our natural instincts and beyond all self-delusion is in his command to love our enemies, to be warm to those who are cold to us, to be kind to those who are cruel to us, to do good to those who hate us, to excuse those who hurt us, to forgive those who won’t forgive us, and to ultimately love and forgive those who are trying to kill us.

That command, love and forgive your enemies, more than any creedal formula or other moral issue, is the litmus-test for Christian discipleship. We can ardently believe in and defend every item in the creed and fight passionately for justice in all its dimensions, but the real test of whether we are followers of Jesus is the capacity or non-capacity to forgive an enemy, to remain warm and loving towards someone who is not warm and loving to us.

For many, unfortunately, the law to love has become the love of laws!

5th Sunday Easter

Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit ( Jn 15: 1 -2)

Having lived surrounded by a vineyard for seven years, I have some understanding of the rhythm of the vine.

When the vine is most beautiful, it is most vulnerable!

Having produced its summer crop of fruit and with a cool change in the autumn climes, the luxuriant green leaves begin to change colour.

The vines change to a multi-coloured vista of reds, browns, burnt orange, and yellow.

The nuisance is that this change in colour says spectacularly, “I am dying.”

Death is so beautifully colourful!


The sharp blade of the pruning shears hurries this death.

And what is cut is determined by another!

The reality that I have borne plentiful fruit this season does not mean I will spared from the pruning shear!

The vine gains nurture and nourishment from the soil, filling its berries to ripeness and fullness, only to be cut once. It then spends time colouring itself in the warmth of autumn hues, only to be cut again.

And quite possibly thrown away.

It is just not fair.