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Tongues of Fire

Chinese lantern flowers
Renew the Face of the Earth

By Fr. Timothy Mulroy

chinese lantern flowers on a hillside gardenThe morning after Pentecost, as I opened the curtains of my bedroom window, the bright red flowers in the garden next door grabbed my attention. In some mysterious way, they seemed like tongues of fire. As I stood gazing, I asked myself why I hadn’t noticed them previously. Perhaps, it was because my mind had become fixated on the large, grey construction site that lay just beyond them. Later that morning, one of my Columban companions commented that those same flowers looked so radiant, while that evening another of my companions set out to capture their beauty with his camera. It was then that it dawned on me that the natural world was also celebrating Pentecost in response to our prayer, “Come Holy Spirit and renew the face of the earth.”

During the weeks that followed Pentecost, as I walked through the nearby hills, my eyes were drawn repeatedly to other varieties of red flowers. For the Chinese people, the color red is associated with good fortune and happiness, and the display of red lanterns creates a joyful atmosphere during festivals. In a similar way, those red flowers on the hillsides seemed to hang like lanterns among the trees, proclaiming through their unassuming beauty their festive joy in the Holy Spirit. Moreover, as I stood to observe them, I sensed their silent but insistent invitation to me to share in their delight.

Seven seeds inside the chinese lantern flowerOn one occasion, as I looked closely at one of those flowering red lanterns that overhung my path in the forest, I noticed that the petals had expanded to form pods. Upon closer examination, I saw that some of those pods had broken open, revealing neatly arranged seeds inside. As I stood marveling at the craftsmanship, I realized that the pod held seven seeds. Seven! Yes, here was another sign of the Holy Spirit at work in creation, infusing it with wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and reverence of God. In that moment, I sensed that this simple red pod was in some mysterious way witnessing to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Such a moment of awareness of the presence of God in the surrounding world cannot be manufactured; rather, it is a gift that takes one by surprise. Moreover, only poets are courageous enough to attempt to convey in words such glimpses of the mystical world. In his poem, God’s Grandeur, Gerard Manley Hopkins seeks to capture the Pentecostal dimension of everything with the opening proclamation, The world is charged with the grandeur of God, and in the concluding explanatory verse, Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Columban Fr. Timothy Mulroy lives and works in Hong Kong.