I had a coffee with my friend Father Brendan yesterday. He is from Ireland and is concerned about the national Referendum taking place right now to change the Constitution and legalise gay marriage. I reminded him of the story of King Cnut, who showed his subjects that the King has no power to stop the tide from coming in. (*) The metaphor seems to say that the world’s power is inexorable, covering everything in time. You can imagine the water rising and even covering churches, their steeples showing above the rising water for a time, then being slowly covered up. Sometimes it seems like that is what is happening in our modern world.
Yet, on this feast of Pentecost, we hear that there is another force even more powerful than the rising tide — the wind of the Holy Spirit. This metaphor says that what seems gentle and hidden is actually powerful. The wind shapes and eventually dries the waters. The wind of the Holy Spirit, despite our fears, is at work in our modern world.
How do these metaphors effect me? I sometimes feel helpless in the very secular world I live in, in Sydney. I am “swimming against the tide” when I try to think of ways to bring my faith into my daily life. At times like this, I need to remember that it’s not me trying to figure out what to do. The Holy Spirit is at work everywhere and my role is to float in the wind and go where I’m taken. That’s way seeds are spread and new life grows.
(*) The actual story of King Cnut, according to Wikipedia goes as follows: “In Huntingdon’s account, Cnut set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the incoming tide to halt and not wet his feet and robes. Yet “continuing to rise as usual [the tide] dashed over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person. Then the king leapt backwards, saying: ‘Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.'” He then hung his gold crown on a crucifix, and never wore it again “to the honour of God the almighty King”.”