A Poem for Pentecost

Unless the eye catch fire,
The God will not be seen.
Unless the ear catch fire
The God will not be heard.
Unless the tongue catch fire
The God will not be named.
Unless the heart catch fire,
The God will not be loved.
Unless the mind catch fire,
The God will not be known.

William Blake (1757-1827) from Pentecost

On the day of Pentecost the disciples found themselves to be in a highly flammable condition. They had been obedient to Jesus’ command to wait for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and they had gathered together in continual prayer—a dangerous mix. On the day that the Holy Fire fell, their eyes, ears, tongues, hearts and minds were ignited by flames that continued to spread through 3,000 parched souls like a California wildfire driven by a raging Santa Ana. That fire remains, to this day, uncontained.

In his poem Pentecost, William Blake’s repetition of the word, “unless” might be received by the reader as an onerous, guilty-inducing, commission. Unless his repetition of the word “catch” is given equal time, we might tend to turn our soggy pockets inside out and offer up a defeated shrug in lieu of prayer. But, we cannot set our selves on fire any more than Simon the sorcerer could buy rights to the Holy Spirit.

So how do we catch fire?  We catch a cold because our resistance is down and in a similar way this is how we catch fire. We ask God to search our hearts and to reveal any areas of resistance to the Holy Spirit: Lord, in what ways have I saturated my eyes, ears, tongue, heart and mind in a fire-retardant? By works? Addictions? Busy-ness?  How might I be trying to ignite my own fire by rubbing together the sticks of moralism and performance? Maybe I’ve just resigned myself to a dark, dank climate of the soul.

Once these areas of resistance are revealed, we confess them as sin and to the degree that we are able, we place ourselves downwind of God’s all consuming fire. In a posture of receptivity, we receive God’s grace and forgiveness. We ask for the Holy Spirit to make us kindling, to set our hearts on fire for God and his Kingdom. And when the rainy seasons come we ask each other to help us stoke the flames.

May the Spirit who set the Church on fire upon the Day of Pentecost bring the world alive with the love of the risen Christ.


– Patricia Conneen