April 21, 2014

Fire of the Holy Spirit: an Easter interfaith dialog

Eritrean Mass at St. Anthony Parish Church, Jaffa, Israel

Since moving full time to Israel in 2012, on Christmas and Easter I miss being with my Christian friends who graciously had shared with me their holy times and festivals (as I did with them times in the Jewish calendar). Earlier this winter, I attended an Eritrean friend's wedding in St. Anthony Parish [Catholic] Church in Jaffa. And last Christmas Day, I went to Immanuel [Lutheran] Church in Jaffa; yesterday, Easter Sunday, I returned there. Sitting in the churches, listening to the melodies, Bible readings, creed or confession of faith, I am transported back to those services in Atlanta, and I am comforted in missing my friends. 

I first published this post on April 8, 2007.

"You must be Stephanie's friend," Angela introduced herself after the Easter Sunday service in Monroe, Georgia. "It's great to meet you. Welcome to St. Anna's Catholic Church. Do you have questions about the church or anything else?" "As a matter of fact," I replied, "I was wondering what meanings and messages the stained-glass window images in the church convey." Not missing a beat, Angela answered my question, image by image. And so ended our encounter, we thought.

The next day, Stephanie forwarded Angela's email to me on the stained-glass windows.

From: Angela
Date: 2007/04/08
Subject: Fire of the Holy Spirit

Stephanie! It was so nice to meet your friend Tamar at Mass today. I know from your blog that she has a real interest in understanding her Christian brothers and sisters, so I want to give good info.

I always like when people ask me questions about our faith because it causes me to think more deeply and do a little studying. I had never actually pondered the symbolism of the window — it has been a "given" for me for quite some time (I think the window was installed when I was a child).

Symbols of the Holy Spirit
As I thought more about it, I realized that I misinterpreted part of my answer about the symbols of the Holy Spirit, and in realizing this, the meaning of the whole window (the Blessed Trinity) became clear to me for the first time. I hope you will share this clarification with Tamar and thank her for inspiring me to think about it.

All Christians, and we as Catholics, believe in a triune God — one holy, almighty and ever-living God who is experienced in a Trinity of three divine beings or persons, God the Father, Jesus Christ (God the Son) and the Holy Spirit (God the Spirit).

Alpha and Omega
God the Father, Yahweh, the I AM, is represented in the window as the Alpha and the Omega (shown on the right), Greek letters for the beginning and the end. I'm sure you both know that belief in God the Father is common to Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths - we all believe in the same GOD.

Cross and Holy Eucharist
Jesus Christ (God the Son) is represented by the cross and by the Holy Eucharist [the chalice]. . .

Dogwood blossom
. . . and the resurrection is depicted in the dogwood blossoms [flanking the chalice].

The dove represents the Holy Spirit as described in Matthew 3:16, where the dove descends on Jesus after His baptism and God speaks from heaven, marking the beginning of Christ's public ministry.

TAMAR REPLIES: I love that the dove is a symbol with multiple meanings in the Hebrew Scriptures. In Genesis 8:8, Noah sent out the dove from the ark to see whether the waters has let up from the surface of the ground. Yet the dove found no resting place for its foot and it returned to him to the ark, for the waters were all over the earth. Twice again, Noah released the dove; first, it returned with a plucked olive leaf in its bill (Genesis 8:11), and Noah knew that the waters had abated from the earth. The following week, he sent out the dove, and it did not return to him again (Genesis 8:12). The flood was over, and the Lord said in His heart, (Genesis 8:21) ". . . I will not again strike down all living things as I did." And so, the dove has come to represent peace.

Yet the dove is also a symbol of war in the Hebrew Scriptures. In 
Jeremiah 50:16, ". . . for fear of the [oppressing] sword of the dove everyone will return to his people, and . . . flee to his land." Building on this idea, the contemporary Israeli novelist Meir Shalev features as central characters in "A Pigeon and a Boy" wartime carrier pigeons that are symbols of both peace and war.

So here is where I got mixed up: the fire is a representation of the Holy Spirit as it descended in the form of tongues of fire on our Holy Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Simon Peter and all of the Apostles at the Pentecost, following Jesus' ascension into heaven in Acts 2:3. This is when the Apostles were commissioned in their ministries. Our Catholic priests and bishops are direct successors of this commission in a two-thousand-year-old unbroken chain of succession. (And the Pope is a direct successor of Peter - the Rock, Matthew 16:18.) They are the only ones with a true commission directly from Christ to consecrate the Eucharist, and perform the other sacraments.

My mistake was in referring to the Burning Bush, which was, of course, a manifestation of God the Father, when he spoke to Moses in Exodus 3:2 many, many moons before the Holy Spirit came to guide us. They are the same in that they are all ONE GOD, but the reference was to the wrong DIVINE PERSON. The Burning Bush is God the Father, not the Holy Spirit.

TAMAR REPLIES: Sorry for your understandable mix-up. I have been a student of the Hebrew Bible since I learned to read, and to this day pore over source texts and multiple commentaries to understand meanings and teachings. I will never know enough Hebrew or multiple disciplines (archeology, history, geography, Biblical and pre-Biblical religions, laws, and languages, as examples!) to understand the texts properly. Though I keep trying and with help such as yours, I inch along . . .

And when you visit Israel's southern Negev desert region, you might see burning bushes, common in dry scorching environments. I once heard a wonderful teaching: The real miracle of the burning bush was Moses' exquisite attention and focus on humble vegetation (the bush) and an ordinary phenomenon (burning), which proved him trustworthy of shepherding a people. He noticed the bush as a devoted shepherd notices every sheep, none too small or insignificant.

And the conversation continues . . .
And so began our two faith traditions, two-person online interfaith dialog! Angela and I have been learning in a stream-of-consciousness-like Q&A format, each researching her tradition to ensure accurate answers. Often, weeks go by before we send an answer and, inevitably, another question.

Angela's "Hubby is Greg, Big Bro is Christopher and the little
one is Daniel. My sweet boys — not quite three years apart."

Related post

April 04, 2014

Partnering with friends in the Punya Foundation and Bhutanese Diaspora

Punya Foundation scholars, parents, and Jana Yuba Kalyan Samuha
(JYKS) volunteers in Birtamod, Jhapa, Nepal. Photo credit: JYSK

I am honored to have partnered with Dr. Lakshmi Prasad Dhakal and Vidhyapati Mishra to produce The Punya Foundation Annual Report 2013. (We each live in a different part of the world; see pages 2 and 3 of the report for our bios and how we became a team.)

In 2010, a group of exiled Bhutanese citizens established the Foundation as a charity honoring the sacrifices their community made in the struggle for human rights and democracy in Bhutan. Driven by their 100,000-person experience of expulsion from their homeland beginning in 1991, and subsisting in refugee camps in eastern Nepal nearly three decades, the Foundation has been working hard helping fellows still in the camps and those rebuilding their lives and becoming self-supporting and productive in countries of resettlement.

The Foundation mission is “Seeking Justice through Education and Empowerment” for vulnerable, often traumatized young children, high school students, women, and families in the Bhutanese Diaspora and in refugee camps in Nepal and beginning in 2013, in Kenya, too.

In Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya, participants in the Punya Foundation
life skills development project to help empower victims of
rape and gender based violence. Photo credit: The Kanera

The annual report, lavishly illustrated with captioned photos, describes programs, activities, scholarship winners, partners, operations, and financial data. Also covered are new initiatives in the coming year, 2014. (For report highlights, see pages 4, 5; for project details, first-person narratives, and scholarship profiles, see the full report.)

Fellows in the Bhutanese Diaspora and friends are invited to support the charity work — donate funds, volunteer talents, make suggestions, and request more information. Please contact Punya Foundation.

My related post
Bhutanese Atlantans repurpose "the vine that ate the South"