by Ken Sehested
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre—
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding,” lines from the final poem in his Four Quartets
T.S. Eliot’s poem, “Little Gidding,” was written in 1942 after the author survived the German bombing of London. He knew humankind faced a crucial choice: to be destroyed in the fires of enmity or to allow the fire of the Holy Spirit to refine, renew, and redeem.
Eliot’s lines are strikingly relevant today, in the week leading up to Pentecost Sunday, as we watch the fires from Minneapolis following the police lynching of George Floyd—the most recent in long string of similar tragedies.
Late last night I sat in stunned silence, agonized in heart, fearful in soul, body limp, watching the fiery conflagration in Minnesota. I instinctively wanted to be surrounded by a corps of wailing women from traditional cultures. I wanted to unsee what I was seeing.
Alas, there is no unseeing, no getting around, only getting through. Which will require renewed zeal in exorcising the original sin of our nation: racism.
We keep thinking the worst of that is behind us. It’s not.
People of faith need to recognize that racism represents the scorching of Pentecost.
Pentecost is my favorite day in the church liturgical calendar. (Which is reflected in the many things—litanies, poems, sermons, and commentary: see “Resources for Pentecost.”)
In my thinking, Easter represents God’s resurrection moment; Pentecost, God’s resurrection movement. As Richard Rohr has written, “If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.” Pentecost is when the little flock of Jesus begins its equipping as insurgents against the walls of hostility.
Let the fire of the Spirit work: to be redeemed by fire from fire.
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