I've always liked Pentecost. Part of that liking is that this is when I was baptized as an Anglican which represented a culmination of a busy year of conversion about fourteen years ago. That conversion really was a turning point in my life and having my baptism happen on Pentecost made a lot of sense then and now. The rushing of the Spirit among the disciples always seemed to have been enacted in my life with the changes which my life took in that year of conversion and which continued to this day. I'm grateful for those changes because I recognize that I had been on a very different, much more self-destructive course before that. Each Pentecost is a reminder of God's intervention in my life, just as it should remind us of the Spirit's intervention into human history through the lives of the disciples.
This Pentecost has also been interesting because of where we're living. Last fall, we moved into a very Jewish area in Toronto, so we've been spectators to the rhythms of Jewish life in the city. We've been lucky enough to be very good friends with a modern Orthodox couple and have had the opportunity to explore the links between Judaism and Christianity in a unique. In particular, my wife has been off to shul a few times including this week as the Jewish community has been celebrating Shavuot (Pentecost)which is the fiftieth day from Passover. The holiday is celebrated with all night Torah learning and, as with any other Jewish holiday, food. My wife managed to make it out to a few of these events (in full frum gear: long skirt, long sleeve shirt and hat). She enjoyed the events and learned quite a bit.
One of the events had focused on learning Torah and why it was important to study it for God's sake, not for the purpose of grinding theological axes, but to learn more about God himself. My wife's description of the event made me wonder how it was that we Christian lost that sense of learning about our faith, about Scripture and about God. Why do we use the Bible as a mine for pithy quotations to use against our enemies, but not really study it? Why do we study theology only for creating sharp weapons to use against those who we perceive as our enemies? Why do we figure that, unlike every other area in our lives, we don't have to know anything about our faith, about our Scripture?
Of course, I'm not the only person to have noticed this. Bishop Tom Wright makes similar comments in his Hebrews for Everyone, when he notes, with some perplexity, that people who in other areas pride themselves on their knowledge almost boast of their lack of knowledge about theology, church history and scripture. Somehow, we Anglicans seem to think that this is okay. Doesn't this fly in the face of the oft-repeated slogan of the Anglican church allowing people to worship with 'heart, mind and soul' if we refuse to learn about our faith, not just through experience, but also through learning about what God is like through Scripture and theology or learning about what has worked in the faith over the centuries of church history?
I don't have any answer for that, of course, but I wonder if we shouldn't take lessons from the Jews here in their transparent love of learning Torah. I wonder what would happen if we imitate the example of, say, Lauren Winner in Girl Meets God, who, on Pentecost night, stayed up with friends to study Scripture all night? Or, if that is too ambitious, if we took a little time out each day to read Scripture, read theology or about the great examples of faith in the past?
I'm not saying that this will solve all our problems as people or as a church. Clearly, study will not, by itself, bring us closer to God. We have to experience God in our lives, through others and through prayer, but I put it to you: if you love someone, don't you want to get to know them better? And wouldn't you use whatever methods were at hand to do that?
On this Pentecost eve, I commit myself anew to Christian learning for its own sake. I pray that, through this study, I learn more about the God I love. May that rushing Spirit of Pentecost sweep us up further into God's presence and may we seek to learn more about our divine Lover.