Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Green Season

Pentecost stretches from here to Christ the King at the end of the November. High summer to nearly winter, lush June green fading to gray, with a month-long pass through autumn's red, orange and yellow. Where, who, what will we be after the Thanksgiving Day trumpets sound, Christ's final rule is contemplated and Advent begins the cycle all over again? So many Sundays, so many lessons, so much ordinary life.

The liturgical color for Pentecost is red, yet the color for the Pentecost season is green. Red and green sit opposite each other on the color wheel. Mix them together and you get a muddy brown. The red of Pentecost stands for fire, as we pray God to "kindle in us the fire of your love." Green is the color of plants that are getting plenty of water--not the kind that go up in flames in the late summer dry season.

So what can we make of these opposed colors? Plants are green because of the pigment chlorophyll, which absorbs light from the sun. That absorbed energy powers photosynthesis, the chemical reactions that transform water and carbon dioxide into glucose, food for the plant. (Food for us, too, and the herds of cattle that become steak and ice cream.) We absorb the sunshine of God's love, all the energy of Pentecost's wind and fire, and it turns the ordinary material of our lives into nourishment. We live and flourish because of the fire kindled by God's love--Pentecost red transformed into the green of the Sundays after Pentecost.

That's all pretty abstract. But as I sit here at the computer looking out the window at all the "volunteer trees" in my yard, weedy things that grow as tall as the house in a single summer, lush green growth is real to me. I don't fertilize these things or water them. They just grow, fed by air and sunlight and the water from the downspouts after rainstorms. If only my soul flourished so readily.

Ah, that Pentecost red is also the color of the blood of saints and martyrs, which has nourished the Church through the centuries. Red stands in for pain, suffering and sacrifice. We are not plants that develop from air, earth and water, that are lifted by the wind and battered by rain and hail, yet feel nothing. Passion flows through our veins--the passionate love of God and each other, the love of the sun and the earth, the love of truth and justice. Passion makes us act, not always wisely, not always rightly. It burns, like fire, warms us and lights the way, but it also destroys, without caution or control.

So what lies ahead in the next 5-6 months of Sunday mornings, as we listen to Gospel lessons from Mark about Jesus's life on earth, followed by sermons on what Christ's ministry means for our lives? Does the Spirit's pentecostal fire inspire passion or give energy for steady, daily growth? Both, of course, in the same way that making art or making anything requires both enthusiasm and discipline. Inflame our hearts, Lord, but also set off that steady chain of chemical reactions that turns energy and light into food for ourselves and for others.

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