When I was a child, I loved to read mythology. There was D’Aulaire’s Greek Myths, with the Chariot of the Sun driving across its cover, and the beautiful, petty, unexpectedly noble gods vying for power and love within. There were the Egyptian myths, more frightening to a young girl, with their half-human deities rending one another’s flesh and the cackle of jackal-headed Anubis. The ancient Hawaiians, riding ti-leaves down mud slides and savoring their poi. Among them all, the only ones I could not embrace were the myths of the ancient Norse, with their dark pessimism and their certainty that at the end of time, the gods and heroes would enter into battle with the forces of evil, and the gods and heroes would lose. The great divine city of Valhalla would burn to the ground, the earth would subside back into the raging waters, and all living things would be destroyed. They called it Ragnarok, the Doom of the Gods, and it ushered in a return to primeval darkness and silence, before, by some unspoken word, the world would be born anew.
This has been a Ragnarok kind of week. It began with the killing of two courageous witnesses who spoke out against anti-Muslim hate speech in Portland. It continued with acts of terror in London and in Kabul. In between, the President of the United States announced that he was withdrawing our country from the Paris Climate Accord, which prompted an avalanche of writing about the actual end of the world.
How fitting, then, that today should be the Feast of Pentecost, when the world is not ended, but reborn. Oh, it had looked like the end. Christ had died, horribly. The disciples had huddled in fear behind locked doors. And even after the Resurrection, they remained there — heartsick, shaken to their core, and terrified. But on the Day of Pentecost, they went to the Temple, and there rained down fire from heaven — not the fire that would consume the world, but the fire of divine love.
If it seems to you like the world is ending, it might be. Both these stories, the true myth of Pentecost and the ancient tale of Ragnarok, struggle to communicate a deep reality. People die. Civilizations die and change and emerge unrecognizable for what they were. Within any one life, there are countless small deaths, and, if we live with hope and with courage, enough new births to equal countless-plus-one. We cannot grow without letting go of who were were. We cannot mature without setting aside childish things. And sometimes, we are made to watch the destruction of things we love, of people we love, and continue breathing in naked faith, trusting that the God who came to us in fire will come to us still.
We who are people of faith,
we who, like the first apostles, struggle to believe,
we who walk (sometimes) in darkness, and
(sometimes) do not walk at all —
We who will not surrender hope
Who turn and
The face the light,
Or to find it,
We who weep and we who mourn and we who dance
because at any rate, it will not do harm, and might,
if the balances are exact,
evoke a blessing
Still we walk in the fire of love
We breathe it even when our hearts are breaking
(Perhaps, especially, when our hearts are breaking)
And it is not the fire of the end
But the fire that leaps from the plain white page
At the beginning of the chapter
At the beginning of the book
The one we have yearned for all our lives
The one whose letters
burn with love.