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‘Hey Mister… your hat’s on fire.’

Good Morning. A while ago the cover of Private Eye carried a photo of an Archbishop of Canterbury. He was wearing a fetching technicolour mitre on his head, red & green tongues of flame lacerating around it. A small boy was looking up at him and the speech bubble from his mouth read, ‘Hey Mister – your hat’s on fire!’

Tomorrow millions of people will mark an ancient festival called Pentecost when the divine spirit is said to have turned up at the Jewish harvest celebrations.

Arriving in the form of tongues of fire, she is said to have so electrified crowds of visitors from across the world that people who didn’t speak the same language could suddenly understand each other.
A kind of Google Translate for early adopters.

Pentecost, coming 50 days after Easter, gave the world Pentecostalism – which is like the Church of England with lots of people. (And more decibels.) It’s a festival rooted in exotic spiritual powers like speaking in tongues and ecstatic visions.

But the earliest followers of Jesus of Nazareth were soon making lists of other divine gifts they believed had come online. Unfortunately, as the Bible was already far too long and way past publication deadline, most of them didn’t make the cut.

But these gifts are still available – and free on demand.
For example people with a tendency to talk too much, who are always on send – they might need the gift of listening, the gift of being on receive.

Or supposing you hear something salacious or damaging about a friend or colleague – you may need the gift of discretion, choosing to forego the short-term hit in passing it on.

Say you’re a company director – you may need the gift of sight, to imagine what life is like for the cleaner who hoovered your office, two hours before you arrived.

Or that aged neighbour or harassed single parent you pass on the street – perhaps you need to introduce yourself, exercise the gift of overcoming your natural reserve.

Some of us feel caught in the wrong career – we may need the gift of finding our vocation.

The congenitally religious could do with the gift of doubt.
We who are jaded and cynical ? A gift of innocence.

For all of us who’ve fallen out big time with someone – we probably need a gift of courage. And forgiveness.

And for those moments when we’re in a massive sulk – we may just need the gift of getting over ourselves.

Our days are held in place by understated gifts like these, invisible nuts & bolts which keep life together without us really noticing.

The epiphany of Pentecost is not about a man whose hat is on fire.

‘Tradition,’ said the composer Gustav Mahler, ‘Is the handing down of the flame, not the worship of the ashes.’

The flame still flickers in a million ordinary gifts – lighting the way as we wander along.