Pentecost is the queerest day of the Christian year. It is strange. It is unexpected. It is unwieldy. It is overwhelming. And we have sought to encapsulate and confine and control it within time, within a calendar to bring it back when we want it to occur. When we can expect it. When we can anticipate it. But that’s not how Pentecost operates. And that’s why we mark Pentecost, to make sure it operates in some way that we can fathom.
Pentecost is about the Holy Spirit, the wind, the breath of God. “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit makes people uncomfortable. People look at Pentecostals and charismatics and see strangeness, madness, and more. And they have laid claim to the Spirit and have institutionalized, defined, delineated, and laid claim to the vocabulary, grammar, and rhetoric of the Paraclete. And we have let them. Pentecostals are not uncomfortable with the Holy Spirit, they revel in it. But they should be uncomfortable. They should be as uncomfortable about the Paraclete as anyone. The Holy Spirit, who births the Church should always make the Church uncomfortable.
David Halperin writes “queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence.” What is the wind? Nothing. It has no Being (I’m attempting to steal from Jean-Luc Marion, here). It is action and praxis.
The Holy Spirit is queer. And s/he would embody queerness, except s/he has no body, per se. S/He is spirit. S/he is enthusiasm, God-within-ness. S/He enables bodies by entering bodies, Church bodies and human bodies, alike. S/He queers bodies.
In Pentecost, the Holy Spirit queers the four elements of Creation: There is baptism (water) by fire in spirit (air) poured out upon flesh (earth). The Body of Christ is made queer in its creation. The Church was born queer, as, “in the beginning”, all people, “male and female”, were born queer, breathed-in, enthusiastically, “god-in-ly”. Free will is a queer thing, isn’t it?
Performance and Acts. Praxis. The manifestation of theory in motion. Phenomenologically, the Holy Spirit is queer theory embodied and enacted. The Acts, the Practices of the Apostles are queer acts. These are queer apostles and they are made queer at Pentecost. And as swiftly as the Church is birthed, it sought to institutionalize itself, to reify itself. To find structure for itself, to normalize and stabilize its world.
But the Paraclete resists the heteronormative hegemony that the Church has sought to claim since its beginning. The Holy Spirit upends this heteronormativity, but s/he upends all homonormativity, as well. Remember, the Holy Spirit upends every and all normativity. And it upends the power of men, giving power to such women as Lydia and Dorcas. Because the power does not belong to men. It belongs to the Paraclete, the Helper. Power belongs to the doer, the doer in Christ. And that there is neither male nor female, neither Jew nor Greek in Christ, therein lies the universal, the universal that upends own universality. There is all the dynamism (from Greek’s dunamis, meaning “power”) of trans- and inter- that is human, all too human, human that shapes and molds and is shaped and molded like wet clay. Gender and sex and ethnicity and nation and culture are all queered and queering. This is the power of the Holy Spirit. S/He makes the holy profane and profane holy.
And today we remember that the Church is made up of all of us. Pentecost is when the Church remembers its birth. So there should be cake. I was told there’d be cake. We read in the Book of Acts that there are candles, that the apostles have flames appearing over their heads and the wind blows and the candles are not blown out. And the Church is the Bride of Christ, so I guess there should be wedding cake? I like cake. Where’s the cake? Where’s the Gift, the charismata? (More on wedding presents later)
But isn’t the Bride of Christ a woman? Tell that to the men in pulpits who preach on Sunday mornings against same-sex marriage. You, sirs, are married to Christ. Where is your bridal gown, sirs? Is it kept in a closet? Did you speak in strange tongues the ecstasies of Theresa of Avila or Julian of Norwich on your wedding night? Is not the power you claim of and from Scripture, and God, and Spirit, and gender actually your hubris? The Dove shall throw down every Hegemon and crush it under its talons.
The Pentecostals and Charismatics and Evangelicals who seek to lay ownership and superior power by the Holy Spirit risk being that new Hegemon. They have institutionalized the Paraclete the most. They have jailed the Dove in a cage, thinking they pull it out when they want, a bird trained on a tether. But how wrong they are. They are lucky the Paraclete is not Euripides’ Dionysus in “The Bacchae”, when the offended and marginalized god turns the women of Thebes mad to shred and devour their tarted-up and leering King Pentheus. Hubris will get you in trouble. The Paraclete fights fire with fire.
The Paraclete, the Helper, unnerves and upsets all structures and expectations. And it helps and comforts and gives gifts. But receiving gifts makes one uncomfortable. The Paraclete queers at the institutional level. The Reformation and Vatican II made the Church uncomfortable and gave it (and gives it) comfort. And the Paraclete queers and gives comfort to the most downtrodden. And it all starts on Pentecost.
And in the queerness of creation, all things are upended. Language is confused. Action is confused. What the fuck is going on?
UR DRUNK, APOSTLES! GO HOME!
But they aren’t drunk. They’re queer. They’re unwieldy. They’re unexpected. Behold, something new is being made, is being gifted, is being helped, is being done. But there is no Being. The Paraclete queers all Being in the wind, in the flame, in the flesh, and in the water. The elements are queered and become something new in creation. A new creation.
And every time we seek normativity that does not come from love, we sin against the Holy Spirit. When we seek to calcify the beingless praxis of the Holy Spirit, we blaspheme. We offend the Holy Spirit when we try to chain and cage the Paraclete. A helper in a cage is a slave. And we have enslaved our fellow human every moment we attempt to normalize our power over each one of us.
How do we disrupt, queer all normativity? By giving to one another, by being a Gift to one another as Christ is the Gift to us, as the Holy Spirit is a Gift for us. Giving disrupts the power dynamic and puts us in debt to one another. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit, when we give them to each other, disrupt all power relations and make us indebted to one another in the way we ought to be, indebted in the forgiving act of love. This is the wedding Gift that the Bride of Christ receives. This the Cake of the Charismata and Charismata Cake is of the tastiest of cakes.
So today is a queer birthday and a queer wedding! Rejoice! Eat your cake! Give each other gifts! Love one another as we have been loved and are loved. Release a flock of doves! Get drunk! Wear a wedding dress! Wear a tuxedo!
QUEER ALL THE THINGS!
Live in your performances! Live in your Acts! Be Nietzschean! Be Kierkegaardian! Be Paracletic! Be a Gift! Are you not one already? Today is our birthday, Church! Are we a boy? A girl? Something else? Something new! Yes, something new! We are a gift. A gift given in lovingkindess by our Creator who queers and is queer!
This is our day to remember that this is the queerest day, as every day should be a day for queering. Upend the Church in love! Make noise! Be confusing! Upend all societal expectations! Offend them! Queer all canons! Shall not the Church offend the World, the powers that be? Shall not the Church offend the Church? FUCK YEAH!
And will you, Church, dare reify, categorize, demarcate, and define the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, for us, the Church? Even you, O Pentecostals? God help you… God help you. It is not us who take back the Paraclete. It is the Paraclete who takes us and queers into the unexpected.