The Spirit of Pentecost

May 21, 2024 in Uncategorized

JAMES LUCEY :: The Spirit of Pentecost promises a great harvest with ‘fruits of love and joy, peace, and forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’ (Galatians 5:22).
A life filled with these fruits is the life that our father wants for us. His Spirit is loving, and it is inclusive, and through it our humanity is capable of great things. The greatest of these is the ability to show compassion for each other; it is to love and to be loved. Through his Spirit we learn to love one another and all his creation.

This loving harvest?

This loving harvest seems out of sight right now, while our world is at war, and existential threats are everywhere. Humanity is forced to move. The poor, the hungry and those in every kind of mental distress are cast aside. In response to global warming there is more burning, in response to conflict there is more war, and in answer to the pleas of migrants forced to flee their homes, we, the powerful recommend deportation.

Human nature?

Faithful answers seem of little help. God loves us, we know, but we could be forgiven for wondering why?
We see each other as aggressive competitive beings, as violent, and destructive creatures, but there is more to our humanity than fight and flight. Our nature is inclusive of our ability to love and be compassionate and these are also authentic parts of his creation.

The brain – The mediator

The brain is the mediator of each contrasting human characteristic, and so it is surely the most amazing part of God’s human creation. The brain is the ‘governor’ of all our cognitive and psychological qualities, and the study of the emotional brain is the most interesting part of all.

In reality, to study the brain, as I did for many years, is to be in constant wonder and awe at its mystery. The brain is not a solid organ. It is made of a kind of semi-liquid fabric, wrapped up over itself, a bit like a Swiss roll.

Throughout life, the brain modulates every aspect of our conscious and unconscious being. Within its many fluid layers numerous collections of sophisticated organs (or nuclei) are connected by billions of nerves, all cooperating with each other, through vast networks of circuits, loops, and pathways. Our every thought and every act, and our every creative joy, is dependent on the integrity of these mysterious connections.

When it comes to our existential anxiety two brain organs are worth contrasting. These are the amygdalae and the hippocampi.

The amygdalae

The amygdalae are imbedded close to the poles of each temporal lobe. Each has the shape and size of a small almond. The amygdale are our alarms and they are set on high alert by every threat and hazard. They initiate an aggressive cascade leading us to take fright, and to fight and ultimately to take flight and so it is through their agency more than any other that our species has survived. We have evolved to become the most aggressive creatures on earth. The cost of their unbridled influence is terrible for the world and for us as individuals.

The hippocampi

By contrast the Hippocampi are beautiful fragile s-shaped structures formed by infoldings of the temporal lobes. Each lies on the outer side of the Amygdalae. Their role is to put every alarm into its emotional context, to help us to understand and not just to recall our distress.

At times of danger these Hippocampi say to us, ‘hold on a minute, we can sort this out together.’ This calming influence is vital. The hippocampi are capable of ‘neurogenesis’ meaning they have the capacity for re-growth and this process of regeneration continues throughout life. Psychotherapy, is thought to be effective partly because it helps to restore a functioning hippocampus, thus allowing an individual to repair by putting their mental distress into a more compassionate context.

Cooperation and hope

Cooperation between the organs of the emotional brain really matters. In health they form a constructive partnership. Both are concerned with threats, and both are essential to memory, but where the amygdalae are essential to our defence, the hippocampi stand for something even more important. They help us to look for more constructive energies. They stand for hope.

Pentecost and the Age of Anxiety

There is no denying it. There is a marked contrast between mankind’s perennial capacity for aggression and our fragile longing for peace and love. These contrasting forces mirror the characteristics of these two emotional organs within the human brain, on the one hand the robust alarmist amygdala and on the other the fragile compassionate hippocampi.

In this our age of anxiety we need to restore all the mediators of hope and love. Aggressive reactions to our difficulty will not work. In response to war we need peace, in response to famine we need generosity, and in response to homelessness we need more than tented villages and threats of mass deportation. At this time of Pentecost we need courage and wisdom, and we need compassion.

Human intelligence and the Spirit

At Pentecost the early Christians were given the gift of the Holy Spirit and that made all the difference. We too are living in a time of terrible jeopardy, but we too have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Descartes said, ‘I think therefore I am’. On this Pentecost Sunday, because of his gift of the Holy Spirit, we Christians can say, ‘I feel therefore I am’.

Human intelligence is more than artificial, it is more than cognitive. At its best, it is a feeling intelligence, an image of the way our father thinks and feels for us. Through the Spirit we can care for our neighbour, and we can care for our planet. Our capacity to care for each other, for our world and for our future comes from his Spirit and it is this holy spirit that will save us.

As Christians we believe this Spirit is God’s love. This is our faith in one word. We know the world is in crisis, but we also know that human beings are capable of yielding many wonderful fruits. So what do we need now, most of all? We need to have the humility to welcome his spirit more and more into our lives.

Humility and transformation

Here in this magnificent Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity, we believe in God the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We know the Holy Spirit is God. Our shared faith tells us that our Father in heaven, who made us, is the same one who sent his only Son to live among us, and also the one who has given us his spirit to help us through even the most difficult times.

A wonderful transformation happened on Pentecost and so the fearful disciples were changed completely. Instead of being frozen and taking flight, the early Christians found the courage to trust in God and to love. A neuroscientist might say that their hippocampus finally triumphed over their amygdala. Their prayers were answered and so their trust bore fruit. Together they built a society in which they were recognised by the way they loved one another. Compassion became their hallmark.

Prayer for the fruits of the Holy Spirit

So let us be joyful because we have received his Holy Spirit. Let us be confident because we believe that we will see his fruits on this Pentecost Day and every day. And let us have the courage to say – ‘Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful, and kindle in them the fire of thy love, send forth thy spirit and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth’.

Professor James Lucey is a Lay Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This is the text of his homily on Pentecost Sunday.