The good news of Christ’s ascension is Pentecost: the Holy Spirit lighting the eyes of all of Jesus’ disciples with his burning love—both to see and to be seen.
It’s still Easter. On the mantel hangs our Alleluia banner painted in pink and blue watercolor. After dinner, our family reads the New Testament, starting with the last forty days before Jesus’ ascension following the resurrection. The birthday of the church, Pentecost Sunday (June 4), is fast approaching when we celebrate the Spirit descending on Christ’s followers like a flame.
I submitted my grades a few days ago and am done with my spring semester. I am drained, close to burn-out, sighing if I receive an email that may cause a few minutes of work for me, and feebly focused on housework when I return home in the evening. Before the semester started, it seemed that God warned me of the exhaustion I’m recovering from.
I had an hour to myself near the end of my winter break while my husband and kids ran errands. Stretched on the couch, resting and praying quietly, I felt a stir inside, a sense of premonition that my semester would be hard. I try to hold experiences like this lightly—maybe hormones or a sad TV plotline was affecting my emotions. Could God be speaking to me?
The next Sunday, I went up for prayer ministry after communion—the ministers were a wise, older couple, who have been to hell and are part way back. These are the kind of people I want to pray for me, and I have them pray for relationships at work, speculating that I might offend someone with one of the program changes I was making. Relationships weren’t the issue though.
I’ll learn the stress of my new administrative position in March and April, when I have to reproduce curriculum changes for multiple stakeholders at our university. Then, my husband will fall and need surgery, he’ll lose his job and we’ll stop child care; a colleague will take a leave and I’ll teach an extra course for five weeks. At the end of my work week, I’ll occasionally cry in the evening.
During the midst of this season, I tell a friend about my premonition during prayer. She says: “God saw you. You know you were seen. That’s something.” It’s true. Being seen is something. It’s an awareness that he’s there even if he isn’t removing me from the situation. I needed that. Yet, I wouldn’t have minded some more stirrings of my spirit.
Christ did this odd thing in the forty days after the resurrection—he visits, but he doesn’t stick around. He sees the disciples, and then he disappears. When two of his followers recognize him after his talk on the Emmaus road, he vanishes (Luke 24:31). When Mary Magdalen grabs him near his tomb, he tells her “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father” and sends her to the disciples (John 20:17). He appears among them gathered behind a locked door, and again eight days later (John 20:19-29). He surprises a group of disciples fishing with a seaside breakfast (John 21).
The good news of Christ’s ascension—those gentle eyes departing—is Pentecost, departing so that the Holy Spirit could light up his followers’ souls like a match to oil, filling their eyes with a burning love. There is a prayer attributed to Saint Teresa of Avila—a prayer that urges us to be Christ’s “hands and feet.” Often left out in its quoting is this line: “Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world.”
Besides the initial flutter of my spirit, I did see the eyes of Christ in the eyes of the older couple who prayed for my semester, although my request may have been misplaced. I saw Christ’s eyes in the eyes of my friend to whom I vented about the stress of work and home life, who could acknowledge my frustrations. I saw Christ’s eyes in the colleague who brought up the possibility of burn-out, as I was relieved that someone gave words to my feelings.
By the time Pentecost is here, I pray that my emotional energy is renewed. I want it not to feel like a forced effort to make eye contact with the cashier at Target. I want to cease my increased habit of escaping into social media and instead look fully into the faces of my children. This last Sunday, I saw someone new at church, and when she didn’t look up, I strode by, feeling too tired to speak with her. I was grateful when later others gathered around her. My next opportunity, I want her to feel seen by me, too.
Along with being a mother to two young and remarkably different daughters, Heather Walker Peterson is a member of Redbud Writers Guild and Chair of the Department of English and Literature at University of Northwestern-Saint Paul.