This month, the church’s calendar brings us to the great feast of Pentecost (read Acts 2:1-47). We celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus had promised in Luke 24:49, and the amazing new life that blossomed – and still blossoms – among the believers.
How do you imagine the Holy Spirit? Artists have relied on such images as doves or flames (which are thoroughly scriptural: see Luke 3:22 and Acts 2:3 for examples), but a long time ago I heard an imaginative little parable that is just about the most delightful image of the Holy Spirit I’ve ever come across.
The preacher (whose name I’ve long forgotten) told the story that one day when he was a kid, he was trudging home after school with a backpack stuffed full of way too many books. It was hot, and the books were heavy, and he was having no fun at all.
Suddenly a car pulled up next to him – a sleek red convertible with the top down – and who in the world was driving but his fierce and demanding math teacher, Mrs. Pepper! But she looked completely different – she was smiling! What? Mrs. Pepper? Smiling? At a kid? And from a red convertible? What’s going on here?
What’s going on here?
And then she spoke: “Hey, it’s a hot day, and you’ve got a lot of books. Can I give you a ride the rest of the way home?” What? Is Mrs. Pepper being kind?
Speechless with surprise, he got in the car, and Mrs. Pepper hit the gas. She smiled and chatted as she drove, telling her amazed student that she was looking forward to going dancing with her husband that weekend – What? Mrs. Pepper, dancing? With her husband? And as she pulled the red convertible up in front of the kid’s house, Mrs. Pepper turned to him and said, “I’ve got a little trick that will help you with quadratic equations,” and she described it. “After all, it’s going to be a nice weekend, and it would be a shame to spend it inside doing algebra the hard way!” What? Is Mrs. Pepper being thoughtful? And helpful? It was all too much.
And that’s the parable. Mrs. Pepper in the story stands for the Holy Spirit. The Spirit can be fierce and demanding, kind and merciful, playful and charming, thoughtful and helpful — and always surprising. Wouldn’t you agree?
Ever since I heard that story the first time, I imagine the Holy Spirit as a delightful teacher with lots of surprises. How do you imagine the Holy Spirit?
Audrey Riley is director for stewardship for Women of the ELCA.