May 31, 2020
As you are washing your hands for the umpteenth time today, you could sing Happy Birthday to the church to give you the necessary twenty seconds required to really clean your hands. Today is Pentecost, the birth of the church with the arrival of the Holy Spirit.
Now the Spirit arrived as a violent howling wind. The disciples were in a small room. Can you imagine what the howling wind sounded like in that tight space? To top that off, those inside the house as well as the crowd outside began talking at once each in their own language. It must have been a cacophony. The Holy Spirit was pouring out power to all present.
The dictionary defines “howl” as 1) a communal noise made by a group of people 2) sound made by a wolf or dog 3) a long loud wailing noise made by the wind. We tend to think of a howl as a sad or distressed noise. Yet, it is also a form of nonverbal communication used by “social structures that exhibit cooperative behaviors, primarily humans, wolves, and dolphins.”
In fact, wolves have been shown to have different dialects. For instance, a red wolf’s howl is looping and high pitched. The timber wolf has a flat and low howl. Their howl is used to communicate and signal to others in the pack. If two varied wolf pieces begin to mate and blend, their howls become a single language for the pack. What scientists have found is that howling by wolves is usually a communal call of solidarity, unity, and joy in each other. Rather than an unhappy or lonely cry.
I like to imagine the howling wind, we read about in Acts 2 this morning, is also a celebration. God’s primal “voice” howls through the room where the disciples gathered and the crowd outside filling everyone with the freedom, joy, and power of the Holy Spirit. In that moment when the Spirit descended as Jesus had promised, humanity was joined in something bigger than themselves, bigger than their points of view, their politics, even their languages. Nothing could separate humankind from itself or separate God from humankind.
During this Covid-19 pandemic, in New York City neighbors in quarantine would open their windows and play music to give a gift of joy to all. In Mill Valley, CA at 8pm locals offer up a communal howl of liberation and joy. In these instances, the goal is to remind hearers that the human spirit can not be squashed. In the midst of grief, fear, anxiety, and loneliness the howling wind brings people together and spirits become bound up in a shared joyous humanity. The music becomes the primal voice celebrating the communal unity and a steadfast bond that goes beyond economics, disease, politics, and tragedy.
The Holy Spirit was poured out on all not just a select group. We are recipients of this amazing gift as well. We have a share in God’s collective message to all people. Each person is a beloved daughter or son of God, blessed in Jesus’ name and summoned to participate in God’s mission.
Here are some questions that I leave you to grapple with. How many of our differences could be transcended if we allowed the power of the Holy Spirit to reign in our lives? What miracles could the Holy Spirit perform in our churches and communities if we embraced it and invited it into our midst? How many hearts and minds could the Holy Spirit possibly transform, if we prayed for the Holy Spirit to have its ways in our communities? Today we are reminded about the role and power of the Holy Spirit to transcend difference. We are one but not the same!
Today, I invite you to let the Holy Spirit roll over you and give your communal howl a try—a declaration of victory and joy, of love, friendship, happiness, and freedom, and pour out gratitude that no matter what happens on this earth, the human spirit can never be quenched, because the Holy Spirit is our healing elixir and our uniting bond.
Howl, people of God. In your howling lies your healing.
In the greatest of hope, may it be so.
Quotes are from “The Howling” a sermon by Lori Wagner