By Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith
“God gave Noah the rainbow sign; No more water, the fire next time.”
—Excerpt from the Negro spiritual “Mary Don’t You Weep,” cited in The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin (1963).
Fire is a powerful symbol of the Holy Spirit in the Christian faith. During this Pentecost season, we have seen the heightened visibility of this image globally as a sacred reference to what the Holy Spirit did and does. The power of the Holy Spirit is illustrated in Acts 2:1-4, 8:
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance …. And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?”
“Mary Don’t You Weep,” the Negro spiritual, and The Fire Next Time, the famous book by James Baldwin, use the image of fire in their calls for liberation of African Americans. This spiritual was used as coding for hope and resistance among enslaved African Americans. Baldwin’s work used the image of fire to capture the central role of race and religion in American history. Both texts—as in the moment of Pentecost—invite people to speak in their own voices while also hearing the voices of the so-called other.
Today is no different! We are at a Pentecost moment in the United States and the world. The protests of these days call forth the fire of Pentecost to come and renew. The fire of the Holy Spirit empowers us to lift our voices and be heard and to hear the voices of others—and to act justly. When will we speak, listen, and act anew in truth to heal our nation of the systemic and structural racial divide in our nation and world? The disproportionate numbers of African peoples directly affected by hunger and health inequities is related to this divide in the United States and globally.
African peoples all over the world have been inviting a Pentecost moment of justice for centuries. After more than 400 years in the United States, this invitation has yet to be fully accepted or embraced. We have reached an important tipping point in the United States. Won’t you accept the invitation and invite others to this moment of renewal to heal our land?
Bread for the World invites you to walk with us as we seek to do this through hunger justice advocacy. Learn more about our current legislative priorities.
Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan African and Orthodox Church Engagement at Bread for the World.