“The wind blows where it wills. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with all who are born of the Spirit.”
It was a cloudy late afternoon when I decided to pitch our new tents with my young retreatants. My excitement was somewhat diminished as the overcast sky could ruin our outdoor activity if it rained.
Nevertheless, we went ahead and after a quick dinner we huddled in a semi-circle and began to call upon the Spirit of North, South, East and West to light our fire , while singing, “Come, come, light the fire, come, come, join the ring.” When we lit the fire, the logs burst into golden tongues of blazing fire as the evening breeze blew gently in all directions. We marveled at the sight of its sparkles dancing like fireflies in the dark.
As we silently watched the fire burn brightly, the dark clouds simply vanished into thin air, clearing the wide open night sky for stars to shine from above. Then we started to listen to each other’s stories, joys and sorrows, struggles and triumphs along life’s journey.
I was touched by how these young people could seem so vibrant and joyful despite experiences of loss, deprivation, abandonment and even abuse. I felt their struggles and struggles growing up in the remote barrios – walking miles and crossing rivers just to go to school. I rejoiced as they shared their triumphs, hopes and dreams. The glowing fire seemed to burn away all the fears and negativities they held in their wounded hearts.
I thought fire has the power to gently heal and restore. It’s like spiritual alchemy. Thomas Ellison describes spiritual alchemy on TheCollector.com as “an ancient philosophy that uses the metaphor of transforming metals into gold to achieve spiritual enlightenment. It is used to achieve contentment, harmony, and consciousness by releasing his essence of his acquired personality.”
And so, as they shared their sorrows and losses, it was as if they were going through the first stage of spiritual alchemy, that is, the dark phase of ‘calcination’. According to Ellison, “The color black represents chaos, that which is hidden and buried, and the matter of the unconscious. It also refers to the Raw materialwhich is the idea in the occult sciences that all matter in the universe emerged from an original, primeval basis.” As Ellison writes, this stage has been compared to Saint John of the Cross’ dark night of the soul which describes the journey of the soul towards union with God.
Their stories – from breakup to wholeness, from betrayal to trust – must go through the crucible of fire. “Yet he knows the way I have taken; when he has tried me, I will come out as gold (Job 23:10).” In the darkness, their muffled voices were like echoes resonating with all of Mother Earth crying out for healing and protection, care and attention in the face of the environmental degradation our world is currently facing.
There is an urgent need to respond to this climate emergency. Professor Stefan Rahmstorf from the University of Potsdam says: “We are currently in a kind of climate emergency. … It is becoming more and more urgent. The time is almost up to reduce emissions. As the Climate Emergency Declaration states online:
The future of human civilization and the survival of the precious ecosystems on which we depend are now at stake.
We experienced the hottest year on record in 2015, and an alarming global temperature peak of over 1.5°C warming in February 2016. Our Great Barrier Reef and ancient forests in Tasmania are being destroyed by the global warming.
As we sang “Ako yuta, kalayo, tubig, hangin, Espiritu!” (I am earth, fire, water, wind and spirit!”), we remembered that we are all interconnected in this great and wondrous tapestry of life here on earth and beyond. immensity of the universe We stayed until the dying embers of the fire were gone and sleep beckoned us to end our long day.
A few days after the girls happily completed their nature retreat, I was disheartened once again when heavy rains hit our village the day before Whit Sunday. Nonetheless, I braved the rain – walking along the muddy path to reach our barrio chapel, not really expecting to see anyone but just having a quiet time alone in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Moments later, I was surprised to see the children and young people arriving soaked in the rain. Only a few had umbrellas so they ran as fast as they could in the dark to reach the chapel just to be there for the Pentecost Vigil.
I was so moved to see them – wet but smiling and eagerly awaiting the start of our prayer vigil. It turned out to be a very solemn evening with about 25 of them in silent worship with candlelight and soft music. Seeing them on their knees with folded hands, talking quietly to the Lord lifted my wavering faith: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
Yes, Pentecost has come to life in this remote mountain village! It was certainly a time filled with joy, vitality and new life from the Holy Spirit, clearly manifested in the anawim, her babies. The rain did not cool their spirits as they were obviously hungry for the Lord in their lives, despite their reality of material poverty and scarcity. They have humbled me and inspired me to guide them as best I can, especially in the absence of a priest who can care for their sacramental life in this local church. Their joyful presence challenges us adults to be on fire with the Holy Spirit too, especially when that fire seems to flicker and die down to open embers.
We got a glimpse of how the disciples in the Acts of the Apostles experienced the power of the Holy Spirit “for suddenly there came a sound from heaven like the blowing of a strong wind, and it filled the whole house (Acts 2:2). Likewise, tongues of fire fell on each of the disciples and “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4). After that, they were never the same again, for they overflowed with zeal and passion to preach the good news of salvation by performing miracles, healings, signs and wonders. Wind and fire were two notable signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit throughout the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles.
Yes, we are a Pentecostal people! May the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit continue to inflame our lives of faith with renewed ardor and passion, just like the disciples in the Acts of the Apostles. May it blow in unexpected places, in strangers who do not know it and in our ordinary daily lives, calling us to journey together as the people of God towards the realization of “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21).