Originally posted as “Poetics of Pentecost“
This past weekend was Pentecost – here is part 2 of my reflection.
Hopefully, most here agree that reading the Bible like contract, constitution, instructional manual or newspaper report is wholly unhelpful [since that is my starting point].
Yet when it comes to Pentecost – it’s almost as if we get lazy in our hermeneutic and revert to a Children’s Church level engagement of the text. I say this as a Children’s Minister who is a big fan of teaching kids to read the Bible… it’s just that I don’t want adults to read the Bible at level.
Yes, we are to have faith like a child – but that does not mean a childlike understanding of our faith.
The language of the Bible is read so much more effectively if we employ a relational component to the words and phrases. So in Christ, it’s not that we are brothers and sisters literally. It’s that we relate to one another as brothers and sister do. We can’t be too literal and wooden with this. Otherwise we end up making elaborate ontological and metaphysical gymnastics to explain how it COULD be literal. It’s not. It’s relational language.
So what if we applied that relational hermeneutic to (expressive language instead of exacting representative language) the passages about the coming of Holy Spirit?
For instance, what if the descending of Holy Spirit was as a dove descends and not AS a dove? One could imagine the same with the flames of fire. It may be better to think a little poetically and not so literally. The presence of Spirit on the disciples appears as tongues of fire appear. [you have to admit the funny play on words in English with speaking in tongues … tongues of fire … that is fun.]
I’m afraid that our centuries old compromise with super-natural thinking conditions us to magically import things into the text that don’t necessarily need to be there. It kills our poetic imagination. Whenever something sounds wild, instead of asking “how does the literary device function? How does the text work?” We just splice in ‘magic’ Doves and Flames without examining what poetic mechanism might have been employed.
It is far more beautiful and makes way more sense to read that God’s Holy Spirit descended as a dove descends. A nice side effect is that we don’t need to insist that it happened literally, make adults feel embarrassed about the chunkiness of the story , and then have to scramble to explain why stuff like that doesn’t happen anymore and have to contrive elaborate secessionist explanations about validating the apostles in order to authenticate the writing of the Bible.
Signs and Wonders work a lot better poetically than they do literally.