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Beyond Belief: Mystery

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” (Acts 2:1-2, NRSV)

Harvard scholar Diana Eck wrote about some innovative worship practices in the medieval church.* Pentecost was one of the most unique and creatively celebrated Holy Days. In 10th-century Rome, the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit became a dramatic, dynamic event for the congregation that involved architecture and not just the order of worship.

Paintings of heavenly scenes on the domed and vaulted ceilings of cathedrals served not only to inspire church members with artistic visions; they also disguised some hidden trap doors. These small openings gave access from the cathedral ceiling to the rooftop. During the Pentecost worship service, servants were positioned up on the roof. At the appropriate time during the liturgy, the servants would release live doves through the openings in the ceilings. It appeared as if the doves were flying out of the painted skies and clouds. They would swoop and dive toward the people seated below as symbols of a vitally present Holy Spirit.

As the doves descended, the choir, composed of young boys, would make the whooshing and drumming sound of a windstorm. Finally, the servants on the roof dumped bushel baskets of rose petals through the openings in the ceiling. The red, fluttering pieces of flowers symbolized the "tongues of fire" described in Acts 2. The openings in the dome became known as "Holy Spirit holes."

Life in medieval times was difficult for most people, and so imagine how this mystical display of the power of the Holy Spirit would bring joy into the lives of those struggling Christians. Life is much easier for us in the 21st Century; however, it could still be refreshing if we were to open up some Holy Spirit holes (not literally!) in our church to unleash the power of God's Holy Spirit in new and rejuvenating ways. ~ Dale Cohen

* Encountering God by Diana Eck (Boston: Beacon, 1993)

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