This week’s readings are Acts 2:1-13, and “Understand Your Job” from The Whole World Is A Single Flower.
Acts 2:1-13 (REB)
The day of Pentecost had come, and they were all together in one place. Suddenly there came from the sky what sounded like a strong, driving wind, a noise which filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them flames like tongues of fire distributed among them and coming to rest on each one. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to talk in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them power of utterance.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem devout Jews drawn from every nation under heaven. At this sound a crowd of them gathered, and were bewildered because each one heard his own language spoken; they were amazed and in astonishment exclaimed, ‘Surely these people who are speaking are all Galileans! How is it that each of us can hear them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites; inhabitants of Mesopotamia, of Judaea and Cappadocia, of Pontus and Asia, of Phrygia and Pamphylia, of Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene; visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes; Cretans and Arabs–all of us hear them telling in our own tongues the great things God has done. ’ They were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What can this mean? ’ Others said contemptuously, ‘They have been drinking.’
“Understand Your Job” (from The Whole World Is A Single Flower)
One day, as Zen Master Man Gong was giving a Dharma speech from the high rostrum, Zen Master Hae Bong opened the door to the room and came in. Man Gong interrupted the speech to say, “Now the great tiger is coming in.”
Immediately, Hae Bong took a tiger’s form and roared, “Rrrrwww!”
Man Gong said, “He understands his job. Only go straight.”
1. Why did Zen Master Man Gong say “Now the great tiger is coming in”?
2. Why did Zen Master Hae Bong take a tiger’s form and roar?
3. What is your original job?
COMMENTARY: A tiger understands a tiger. A dog understands a dog.
Many of the recent stories in lectionary have to do with fantastical happenings. Jesus rose from the dead! He was fully embodied, yet passed in and out of locked rooms. After forty days he ascended to heaven. Now this week the Holy Spirit is taking the form of tongues of fire, baptizing the twelve Apostles, and enabling their speech to be heard by anyone in her or his own language. Amazing! Why don’t I get to see things like this happening each week at church?
Different Zen teachers identify different “zen sicknesses,” things which creep into a student’s practice and keep him or her from a direct experience of the dharma. Christianity has its own set of sicknesses, keeping followers of the way from deeply living the gospel. In my own experience one of these Christian sicknesses is either getting seduced by fantastical language in the Bible, or arguing endlessly about its veracity. In one sense the fantastic stories such as Jesus entering locked rooms or rising into the sky seem to prove a point about Christianity – God can do this, God is powerful, follow God. But what does our intellectual assent to these stories have to do with ending racism or systemic poverty? Conversely, spending time arguing that these things did not happen distracts us from the point of the stories and the point of the Gospel.
Kong-an practice, as I have learned it, directs me into fantastical language without getting tripped up on it. It teaches me to see something right in front of me. This week’s story tells us that Zen Master Hae Bong took a tiger’s form and roared “Rrrrrwwww!” Do we believe he actually turned into a tiger? If we do, we become suspect of being feeble minded or gullible. If we argue with the story and say that no man can turn into a tiger, we’re missing the point – just as we’d be missing the point in arguing that Jesus didn’t really get into those locked rooms or rose into the sky.
So what happened at Pentecost? Did tongues of fire come into the room, anoint the Apostles, and blow loudly around the room? Is that even possible? We know it was during a festival. Were the Apostles, the listeners, or all of them drunk? What was the job of the Apostles?
They shared the gospel, and it was heard.
Questions for this week:
1. What does a tongue of fire look like?
2. How does the Holy Spirit give the power of utterance?
3. What was the job of the Apostles at Pentecost?