Pentecost: What the Fire Gives

What the Fire GivesImage: What the Fire Gives © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Book of Acts, Day of Pentecost: Acts 2.1-21

And how is it that we hear, each of us,
in our own native language?
– Acts 2.8

We buried Gary’s ashes near the end of April. Two days after what should have been our fifth anniversary, I gathered on the family farm with our parents, our brothers and their wives, and Gary’s son. The last time we had all been at the farm together was for the wedding, which seemed both astonishingly recent and also an eternity ago. With my brother’s help, I had picked a spot for the ashes down by the lake, tucked in a stand of palmetto trees that appears in some of our wedding photos.

After we all made our way to that place by the lake, I looked around the circle at each face. Dearly beloved, I said. I told them of how, as Gary and I had planned for our wedding, the word blessing kept coming to mind. We decided it should be a day of blessing, and so blessings wove through the ceremony and the celebration that followed—blessings that were spoken, and blessings that were embodied in the people who had come to be with us that day.

I told our family how, as I had prepared for the day of burying the ashes of our beloved, the word blessing had come to mind once again. And so, in that place of letting go, there were blessings offered and received, spoken and unspoken as we placed my husband’s ashes in that sacred ground.

As Pentecost Day approaches, I have been remembering those blessings that came in the presence of ashes. There is such a finality to ashes—ashes to ashes, dust to dust, after all. Yet Pentecost arrives to remind us that ashes do not have the final word, and that fire does not come only to consume. It comes also to bless, to call, to inspire, to give to us what we could never begin to imagine on our own.

The fire of Pentecost scalds us toward speech, and this is a blessing and a miracle. This is not, however, where the greatest miracle lies. The miracle of Pentecost, as my seminary professor Dr. Bill Mallard told us one day, is not a miracle of speaking. It is a miracle of hearing, and of understanding.

How will we allow the Spirit to scorch us, not only toward the word we need to speak, but also toward the word we need to hear? How will we open ourselves to the Spirit that comes to set us ablaze with vision?

What the Fire Gives
A Blessing for Pentecost Day

You had thought that fire
only consumed,
only devoured,
only took for itself,
leaving merely ash
and memory
of something
you had thought,
if not permanent,
would be long enough,
enduring enough,
to be nearly

So when you felt
the scorch on your lips,
the searing in your heart,
you could not
at first believe
that flame could be
so generous,
that when it came to you —
you, in your sackcloth
and sorrow —
it did not come
to consume,
to take still more
than everything.

What surprised you most
were not the syllables
that spilled from
your scalded,
astonished mouth —
though that was miracle
to have words
burn through
what had been numb,
to find your tongue
aflame with a language
you did not know
you knew —

no, what came
as greatest gift
was to be so heard
in the place
of your deepest
to be so seen
within the blazing,
to be met
with such completeness
by what the fire

– Jan Richardson

For previous reflections, blessings, and art for Pentecost, click the images or titles below:

Pentecost: This Grace That Scorches Us

Tongues as of Fire

Pentecost: When We Breathe Together

The Origin of Fire
Pentecost: The Origin of Fire

Pentecost: One Searing Word

Fire and Breath

Pentecost: Fire and Breath

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “What the Fire Gives,” please visit this page at (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

7 Responses to “Pentecost: What the Fire Gives”

  1. Catherine MacDonald Says:

    Your words have been a blessing to me today.

  2. DebN Says:

    Thank you.
    Bless you.
    Thank you

  3. Rosalie Nelson Says:

    Dear Jan, what a lovely remembrance of your dear husband, and what lovely thoughts of the fire of Pentecost!!! It will be 10 years in August since my husband died, so widowhood has taken on a very personal meaning. May you continue to speak the truth of God in both your writing and painting! I do so appreciate getting your ‘painted prayerbooks’.

    Rosalie Nelson
    Palo Alto, CA

  4. Lynda Says:

    “It is a miracle of hearing, and of understanding.” Thank you for this insight. So often we miss the important and this is the important miracle. May the Holy Spirit give us the gift of hearing and understanding. Thank you also for your beautiful poem. Blessings to you Jan.

  5. Linda Thomsen Says:

    Dear Jan,
    Your beautiful words reminded me of the title of a book:
    Why Not Become Fire? . . . about women mystics
    It’s a phrase I need to remember often, when my limiting beliefs about myself allow me to dim the flame of the Spirit that wants to shine forth.
    And, you reminded me that it is when we move through these great trials by fire that the Light shines the brightest. Thank you.

  6. Suzanna Says:

    Jan, thank you for your grace and your willingness to share your heart. Your pen and paintbrush are truly blessed by God. Thank you for inspiring so many to find courage in the darkness. Every blessing to you.

    Morden, Manitoba

  7. Kathy Swaar Says:

    Jan –

    The one year anniversary of my beloved’s death is looming. Your image and your words here give voice (and hope!) to my still-grieving heart. Thank you!

    kathy swaar

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