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The Holy Spirit is the first firefly

By Nathan Hosler

“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. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (Acts 2:1-4, NRSVue).

Photo by Tony Phan on Unsplash

I, and the interfaith working group on drone warfare, have worked on a public event and art exhibition with an army veteran and anti-drones artist named Essam Attia. While I mostly worked on the organizing end, I also worked on a few pieces that juxtaposed theological ideas with the pretensions of power and knowledge that are entwined in the use of lethal drones. For example, the notion that the cross of Christ was a form of state-sponsored execution, and so are lethal drones.

Photo by Nate Hosler

I call this piece “Rush of Wind and Flames of Fire [Pentecost].” All powerful and all knowing. Able to decide and execute a decision at will. Authority and dominance. Visions that animate and embolden. The gold paint of the stencil references the church tradition of icons. A picture of reverence and adoration.

Pentecost this is not.

No, the Holy Spirit is the first firefly.

In that time, when the weather was warming and summer was coming, I watched for the first firefly.

In D.C. we live in a little old row house, approximately 12 feet wide, which makes our front yard about the same width. It is jam packed with flowers, herbs, vegetables, and the toys of our 5-year-old strewn about. Usually, after he is in bed, I come back outside to put away our bikes from the daily commute–or, in the summer, to water the plants. Often it is here that I see the first firefly. I have a terrible sense of time and dates so I don’t know what date this will typically happen, but I wait expectantly for the first blinking light.

This summer, when I saw the first firefly, it was not in the front yard.

Around our little back yard is a fence I built. Outside is the alley. I don’t go to the alley to relax but to put out the recycling and trash bins on Monday nights. I usually try to go before dark and I go with alertness and care. The alley is not particularly pleasant. It is usually littered with significant rubbish, which is unpleasant and sometimes dangerous. Gun violence over the years here, and assorted other activities, mean that I am wary going out back.

This year I caught a glimpse of the first firefly next to a pile of refuse near our back gate, blinking beautifully and hopefully in an abandoned place.

When we celebrate Pentecost we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. The disciples gathered in prayer, hidden in a room, in fear. While there may have been hope and expectation, it was likely tentative. I imagine it felt like an abandoned place. Into that place of fear and disorientation came a blinking light. A flicker of flames amidst a rush of wind.

The front yard of the Hosler house in D.C., with a beautiful container garden growing flowers and vegetables. Photo by Nate Hosler

The Holy Spirit is the first firefly.

The Holy Spirit is also a small girl.

Since July 2022, Washington City Church of the Brethren where I am a pastor and which houses the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, has been receiving asylum seekers from the Mexican border. In a political stunt, the governors of Texas and Arizona have been busing asylum seekers to Washington, D.C. Often with little food, water, or clothing, people who have fled dangerous and difficult situations are dumped in D.C.

Until recently, our church was one of the official reception sites for these asylum seekers. Although the official site now has changed locations, people still regularly show up at our church building asking for support. One day earlier this summer I was headed out the door when a group of nine people walked up. Kids that were probably 2, 6, 9, and 14 years old were part of the group. There were three family units, and they had been sleeping outside. Quite possibly they had walked through several countries in order to seek asylum at our border.

After some minutes, we decided they would wait in the church fellowship hall until we found some food and figured out what to do. In the fellowship hall there is a play area set up for the kids on the buses. The 6-year-old, who had been traveling in uncertainty and danger, who was probably tired and hungry, was the first into the large room. When she caught sight of the toy area, her eyes lit up and she squealed, “Juguetes”! Toys!

The disciples traveled in fear and were hiding. And when the Holy Spirit came, they exclaimed with joy, in immediate reaction, bursting out onto the street in a chorus of many languages proclaiming the work of God.

The Holy Spirit is a small asylum-seeking girl–joyful in spite of distress and uncertainty.

The Holy Spirit is the first firefly–blinking hopefully in an abandoned place.

In our work and lives may we perceive the work and presence of the Spirit in vulnerable and abandoned places. May the Spirit be made manifest in our lives and ministries as we experience and bear witness to the joyful work of God.

— Nathan Hosler is director of the Church of the Brethren Office of Peacebuilding and Policy in Washington, D.C.

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