I am sitting here at my favorite outdoor table on our last morning in Mexico, writing — I know I won’t be able to post this until days after we get back, definitely after Pentecost. I’ve simply been too lazy to take my computer laptop out of its bag and tussle with the wireless network connection. But I’m enjoying my last bits of tropical trade winds for a while, and the reality that today is the day of Pentecost, well, I just needed to sit and write for just a moment.
Pentecost is such an important day in the life of our faith — it signifies the day when humanity began to have the slightest sliver of understanding of the grace and glory that is given us through the new covenant. Pentecost is an important day in my life as well. It was on Pentecost that I was licensed to the Gospel ministry by the Calvary Baptist Church; it was on Pentecost that I passed out in Israel and began the process of discovery and healing, the repair of a congenital defect that was unknown to me, that surely would have killed me if left untreated. And today, on this day of Pentecost, I mark my first trip to Mexico (and out of the USA) since that surgery — a surgery and repair that has brought me to a life of health and vigor I have never, ever known.
You might think it odd to commemorate the end of a seemingly frivolous vacation with the other two events and with the Christian day of Pentecost, but I assure you that it is not. Last summer, our trip to Mexico was the last trip we took before the surgery. When we rolled up the highway in our comfortable transfer to the airport last year, the only thought on my mind was that I might never see this place of relaxation and healing again–not just because I might be dead, but because I might not be healthy enough to travel to a place relatively far from the kind of medical care that would be needed. And it was only as we boarded that same transfer at the airport last Sunday that I understood the extent of healing in my life. I was here again, in this place of relaxation that I love, that I have visited annually (and sometimes more than annually) since 2002. I finally, in that moment, came to understand the true meaning of the word “recovery”. It was not the definition I expected.
At each step of my journey over this last year, I have thought of “recovery” as the next stage, something to attain, something that I wasn’t experiencing yet, and something that had to be put aside until other tasks were completed. And that might have been true from some perspectives. But on this trip, in this place, I can say that, like a friend you see from afar and run towards with open arms, finally recovery and I have met up and locked arms as the journey of life continues.
Everywhere in the tropics you see evidence of the real meaning of recovery and healing — as rebirth and new life, as the stretch towards wholeness that is the act of living. My favorite illustration is something that I’ve noticed over and over again on our trips here and have only just now come to understand. One of the big reasons we love the El Dorado resort is this — while these resorts may be luxury compounds in every way, the hotel group is locally-owned, locally-managed and exhibits the kind of respect for its people and its surroundings that show a love of the land and the community in which it conducts business. The core operational philosophy is one of sustainable living and reverence for the nature that makes this such as special destination to visit (a respect for nature that is also part of the culture of the indigenous people of the region). And one of the visible results of this philosophy is that as much as possible, building is done with local materials as is the landscaping. So you often see garden borders made with sea stone recovered during the process of cleaning the beach or made with seemingly dead and dried out coconuts.
From time to time as you wander the grounds, you will look at a border and see the beginning of a new palm tree sprouting from one of these “dead” coconuts. I always thought it was just a coconut gone wild, asserting its call to life against all the odds. The truth, I find out, is that the new tree growth is intentional. You see, it takes about two years for that coconut to dry out and begin to sprout. And then it will take another two years to develop the fibrous root that lets it begin to be a tree. it will take another ten years to produce coconuts. For about
five years, each tree produces 75-200 coconuts a year, depending on where it is growing (apparently considerably fewer per year in Mexico, according to our guide). The popularity of coconut products is expanding and puts the tree itself in danger, because of the long maturation period from seed to producing tree, and so the owner of the El Dorado hotels, seeing that popularity and the danger, decided it was a good idea to encourage those borders to sprout, to encourage them to once again become trees and create the next generation of coconut palms. See…sustainability and beauty; recovery and healing.
And I can’t help but see those same forces at work in the passages assigned for Pentecost. We discuss Acts 2:1-21 and Numbers 11:24-30 as evidence of the action of the Holy Spirit and evidence of the birth of the church, but what about the individuals in these stories? What about the gathered people of Israel and the disciples? What did they feel? What changed in their lives?
These passages tell dramatic stories so that we might understand — speaking in many languages, tongues of fire, pillars of smoke. While all these signs come to life in the telling of the tale, I will bet you that the recovery, healing or the transformation that came from those events — even for the disciples and the assembled elders — was a whole lot more like the experience of the coconut slowly creating new life from old, or my own experience of looking at the ocean and realizing at last that I feel whole again. It was an experience unexpected and a long time coming.
Recovery seems to come in a flash, like a tongue of fire or a pillar of clouds, but it does not really happen that way. The disciples had studied, they had followed, they had worked hard. The “sudden moment” came as a summation to all that had come before, not necessarily as a causative event. To embrace the old cliche, enlightenment and healing are both a journey, not a destination. It matters not that you reach a stage called “recovery,” but that you understand how to embrace the signs of the gift along the way.
And the task was the same for those present that day of Pentecost so many years later as it is for us today. The sudden, dramatic sign may come to stir our attention — and then, it is over. We are left with the question: now what? What to do with that realization, what to do with that new understanding? The momentary, magical event startles us, comforts us, challenges us — calls us to understand that we have recovered, that we have experienced the ongoing healing that accompanies a life of faith. That momentary awareness of the action of the Holy Spirit startled them into an awareness that there was healing for their fears and their worries in the days after Jesus’ ascension. They were not forgotten, they were not lost, in fact they were living in a time of recovery and that they themselves were agents of that recovery.
My question to you and to myself this day of Pentecost is this — having glimpsed the possibility of God’s healing spirit, what will we do next? Can we live in the uncertainty that is our normal human existence (because even for the most attuned of us, not every day carries with it the dramatic knowledge of realization that came on that Pentecost)? How indeed, do we move our foot the next step after we have experienced the presence of recovery?
I do not have an answer for myself, nor do I have one for you. But I have learned that particularly in recovery, we keep asking the question: what next? What next, friends, what next…