Image (detail): Queenie McKenzie, “God sending the Holy Spirit on apostles and Mary”, 1991.

‘She will guide you into all truth’

Andrew Collis
Pentecost, Year A
Psalm 104; Acts 2:1-11; John 20:19-23

The Jewish Pentecost (or Shavuot) is a celebration of the fruitfulness of the land, blessed by the sun, rain and “wind/breath” of God. It is also a celebration of God’s giving Torah (good teaching) to a newly liberated people – 50 days after the Passover, 50 days after the Exodus.

In the church, we celebrate how the Spirit or “wind/breath” of God has “in-spirited” human beings – Jews and Gentiles – to live “highly” of themselves. The work of the Spirit is that all creation, including human beings, radiate Christ.

As the Spirit came upon Mary whose faithfulness gave the Word flesh, so that same Spirit hovers over our bodies that Christ might take new flesh.

The early apostles, “air-borne” in a sense, flew outward from hiding into humanity, from amorphous shame into bold figures of faith. The church now, as then, is full of its blessed self when it longs and labours within God’s good creation to bring forth fruits of holiness not hollowness, substance not emptiness.

Rowan Williams says: “Life in the Holy Spirit is life where Jesus is alive in the company of others … [It entails] something like our lungs expanding to cope with a new atmosphere … the fullness of love.”

“The meaning of Pentecost,” says Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “is that the religion of both the Father and the Son are to be fulfilled in the religion of the Spirit, that God is no longer in heaven but in human society and communication, wherever people come together in God’s name.”

Referring to a famous 1963 song about the wind (often described as a gospel song, it is also pentecostal), one commentator says: “We listeners are invoked individually … yet we are also a group, as the song’s main theme touches on collective topics – racism, war, and middle-class indifference … Having heard the questions, we are now primed for the answer, ready to listen to the wind” (T. Hampton).

When Jesus was with his disciples/followers, he described the Holy Spirit as a Paraclete (the word means Defender or Friend). Jesus said: “If I fail to go, the Paraclete will not come to you, whereas if I go, I will send her to you … When the Spirit of Truth comes, she will guide you into all truth …”

The disciples were sad when Jesus died. They felt that he had left them. Jesus knew the Spirit would come to them as a Defender and Friend to comfort them and to inspire compassion, love – their capacity to comfort others.

This is true – no matter what happens to make us sad, lonely or angry – there’s always the possibility of love, the invitation to greater love. We can learn from our own experiences to better understand what other people are going through. Compassion is learned, it often comes through grief. And our hearts can continue to grow wise and warm.

The Spirit guides us into all truth. God knows we need to be guided. We don’t already understand. There is so much truth – so much to learn together, for our children to learn. Different languages, many fields of research, forms of inquiry, hidden histories, worlds unimagined.

The Spirit guides us into all truth …

The child of an Aboriginal woman and a gardiya (white-fella) father, Queenie McKenzie was at the centre of a series of tense encounters between her mother and local government authorities. They sought to take her from her family, following the assimilation policies of the time. On each occasion, McKenzie’s mother strongly resisted, even rubbing charcoal on the young girl in an attempt to conceal her lighter skin. 

As a young woman, McKenzie worked as a goatherd and later as a cook in the cattle mustering camps of Texas Downs. In her later years she moved to Warmun (Turkey Creek), where she became one of the most senior figures in Gija women’s law and ceremony. After witnessing the success of the male Warmun artists, and with the encouragement of Rover Thomas, in 1987 McKenzie was the first woman to begin painting in her community.

In little more than a decade of active painting, Queenie McKenzie emerged as a prominent and compelling commentator on the Aboriginal experience. Participating in numerous solo and group exhibitions, she created works that range in scope from the creation of the world, through the violent encounters of the colonial era, to the present day. 

Many of McKenzie’s paintings are autobiographical, depicting episodes from her life with her own people and with gardiya, on the remote cattle stations of the East Kimberley. McKenzie created a remarkable visual history of a life spent in two worlds: the sacred landscape of the Ngarrangkarni (Creation time), and her working life on Texas Downs Station.

The Spirit guides us into all truth …

Outgoing host of the ABC’s Q+A program, Stan Grant, ended his tenure on the show with an impassioned, sincere message to both his supporters and critics, reflecting on his Indigenous culture and the racist abuse that drove him off the air.

Fighting back tears, Grant revealed he was stepping away from the show to take some “time out”, noting he no longer had the strength to power on as his “soul is hurting”. He thanked his supporters for backing him but, humbly, suggested their kindness would be better directed at those less fortunate than him who feel “abandoned and alone”.

He also spoke directly to those who have sent him abuse, showing compassion for them. “To those who have abused me and my family, I would just say – if your aim was to hurt me, well, you’ve succeeded, and I’m sorry,” he said before paying homage to his culture.

“I’m sorry that I must have given you so much cause to hate me so much, to target me and my family, to make threats against me. I’m sorry. And that’s what ‘yindyamarra’ means. It means that I am not just responsible for what I do, but for what you do.”

Grant admitted he was feeling “down”, yet had the resilience to “get back up” again. He said that, if he was ever met with such racial abuse again, he would respond by sharing the “love of (my) people”.

“My people can teach the world to love. As Martin Luther King Jr said of his struggle, ‘We will wear you down with our capacity to love,’” he recited.

“Don’t mistake our love for weakness – it is our strength. We have never stopped loving and fighting for justice and truth – the hard truths – to speak in our land.”

In a final point, Grant took aim at the media, particularly social media, and how it was the “poison in the bloodstream of our society”.

“I fear the media does not have the love or the language to speak to the gentle spirits of our land. I’m not walking away for a while because of racism – we get that far too often. I’m not walking away because of social media hatred. I need a break from the media,” he said. “I feel like I’m part of the problem. And I need to ask myself how, or if, we can do it better.

“To my people – I have always wanted to represent you with pride. I know I might disappoint you sometimes but, in my own little way, I’ve just wanted to make us seen. And I’m sorry that I can’t do that for a little while.”

The outgoing host thanked his family before ending with a beautiful message in his native language …

Richard Rohr says it’s not difficult to discern a person of the Spirit. A child can tell very quickly, he says, if someone is a person of the Spirit: kind, wise, generous, willing the good, open to friendship …

Let us go gently/boldly with our God who guides us as the wind fills the sails of a boat, as the wind lifts a dancing kite … a red streamer high and lovely … in the name of love. Amen.