Faith at the Margins lead Paul Coleman reflects on the disrupting power of the Holy Spirit.

The other week I went for a walk along the canal from Rodley. It was an almost iconic scene, blue skies, the fields and trees stretching into the distance, a few people jogging or walking along the canal path as moorhens and other birds swam to and fro. All of this was perfectly reflected in the mirrorlike surface of the canal. Yet within seconds this peaceful image was completely disrupted as a pair of wild geese made a dramatic entrance. With a great honking the geese passed overhead before coming in to land on the canal with a flurry of wings scattering water everywhere as the disturbance spread ripples along the canal for quite a distance.

It is perhaps small wonder that Celtic Christians often used the Wild Goose as an image of the Holy Spirit. Like a wild goose, the Holy Spirit was wild, untamed and unpredictable, challenging the status quo and leading people to encounter God in new ways and places.

“The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

For me this image of the Holy Spirit is more compelling than the traditional depictions we often encounter at Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit disrupted and disturbed the normal life of the city, bringing people from diverse backgrounds together in awe and amazement. The description in modern English somehow undermines this, turning a wild tumultuous event into something safe and contained. Yet right from the beginning it’s clear that the Holy Spirit is bringing massive change. When Peter stood up to speak to the crowd he quoted from the prophet Joel,

“I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my spirit, and they shall prophesy.” (Acts 2: 17-18)

Formerly granted to individual prophets and kings, God’s Spirit is now poured out onto “all flesh,” regardless of gender, age, or social status. This would have been enormously unsettling at the time, and still is today.

What does this look like today? And where do we hear the Spirit calling us to action? For me it is wherever I encounter injustice and oppression, where people are being marginalised and treated without dignity or value as humans. In my work with LCI I regularly encounter these situations. However, I also encounter people, both in our churches and in wider society who hear the call to challenge injustice. This year we have the chance to do that. With the upcoming General Election, we have the opportunity to call on all candidates standing in Leeds to commit to helping people in need in our communities. But as we do this, we also need to remember that ending poverty, inequality and oppression is something we are all responsible for.

There are two ways we can take action in the coming months. We can get involved with West Yorkshire Citizens and engage with their campaigns around work and wages, mental health, citizenship, refugees, housing, climate justice and racial equity in education. You can find out more here, or get in touch at [email protected].

Another opportunity is to join in the upcoming discussion as people from across the city come together to talk, think and feel together about how we might make Leeds a city where everyone thrives regardless of their bank balance or postcode. You can find out more here.

Like the ripples spreading from the geese landing on the canal, the events of that first Pentecost continue to spread today, bringing change, as God’s unstoppable drive to renew and restore creation is made visible and reaches deeper than the isolations and barriers brought about by human cultures, nationalities, and languages. However, unlike the ripples on the canal which gradually fade away, the ripples of the Holy Spirit and Pentecost continue to grow, bringing renewal and new life.