when the spirit comes: a poem for pentecost

I originally wrote this poem for Pentecost in 2017 and updated it for Pentecost 2020, and performed it at Grandview Church in East Vancouver and (virtually) at Inhabit Conference. It is inspired by South Korean and ecofeminist theologian Chung Hyun-Kyung’s address to the World Council of Churches Assembly in Canberra, Australia in February 1991, entitled “Welcome the Spirit; hear her cries.” For the written version below, I’ve included footnotes to contextualize the poem for non-local readers.

When the Spirit comes,
She comes swift and surprising,
She comes jubilant brass band at a potluck joyful,
She comes laughing loudly in public and unashamed.
She walks the Drive1 like a busker queen,
Like an overflowing garden, like the sun itself
throwing shade to the rain,
for pain will not have the last word in the hip hop
holy freestyle fire poured out
When the Spirit comes.

1 | Commercial Drive, or “The Drive,” is a street in East Vancouver, historic Little Italy, where peoplewatching yields an eclectic mix of buskers, drum-circling hippies, and bocce-playing seniors, home base of the annual Dyke March. | Photo: Michelle Bruton on Flickr

When the Spirit comes,
She comes in power. At her heels,
SROs2 made safe, the Balmoral2 reborn,
The houseless made next door neighbours.
At her heels, sidewalks flower and parking lots blossom,
The sirens stilled on Main and Hastings3,
The storm of honking hushed on First Ave.
As she dances, a crowd of rainbows,
A party of pride, queer joy without shame.
As she sings, women no longer missing3 found,
The Highway of Tears4 turned tent of feasting –
For all will eat together in right relations,
Whole and well and welcome
When the Spirit comes.

2 | The Balmoral is one of the Downtown Eastside’s notorious SROs, or Single Resident Occupancy hotels, known for their inhumane conditions (lack of running water, broken locks, corrupt slumlords), and yet one of the only housing options available next to street homelessness. The City ordered the evacuation of the Balmoral in 2017.

3 | Main and Hastings are the primary cross streets of the Downtown Eastside (DTES), Canada’s poorest urban postal code and epicentre of the opioid crisis, a neighbourhood characterized by its fierce community advocacy and endless creativity, and birthplace of the Women’s Memorial March which honours the lives of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Photo: Jen Castro on Flickr

4 | The Highway of Tears is a stretch of Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert where many Indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing. Since 2008, families of the missing have marched the Highway in the Walk4Justice.

When the Spirit comes,
She tumbles from each tongue like water,
Cantonese in Chinatown5 herbal shops,
Punjabi in South Hill6,
Anishinaabemowin7 and Cree and
Hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓7 flourishing and free.
Little libraries of lost and found languages
On every corner she breathes.
At her heels, Hogan’s Alley8 restored.
At her heels, Japantown9 breathed whole.
For the Lord says I will show my wonders
Of a city for all people
For the elders and disabled
Blessed and safe,
For the drum beats strong and
thick smudge of sage
Till our home on native #LANDBACK10
She’s counting the days
For all will have their right to place
In the days when the Spirit comes.

5 | Chinatown in Vancouver (photo: CCAP) overlapping with the DTES and home to low-income seniors (Cantonese, Mandarin and Taishanese speaking), is rapidly gentrifying, endangering essential needs access, housing, and livelihood of residents.

6 | South Hill (mistakenly mentioned in the original video as South Fraser Street) is also known as Punjabi Market or Little India, where South Asian immigrants settled near 49th and Main Street in Vancouver.

7 | Anishinaabemowin refers to an Ojbwe language in the Algonkian family. Hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ is a Musqueam language; Vancouver is located on the traditional and unceded (untreatied) territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh.

8 | Hogan’s Alley (photo: Vancouver Archives) was the home of Vancouver’s Black community before it was displaced by the construction of the Georgia Viaduct; currently, Hogan’s Alley Society is negotiating the future of the block redevelopment with the City.

9 | Japantown (Paueru Gai) was the cultural centre of Japanese Canadian immigrants in Vancouver until internment during WWII, afterwards which the community never recovered. Community efforts such as the Powell Street Festival continue to celebrate Japanese arts and culture, intergenerational programming, and connection with the DTES on the site of historic Japantown.

10| #LANDBACK is a rallying call and movement for land reclamation and defence of Indigenous sovereignty, especially in the face of continued colonial policies and extractive industry.

When the Spirit comes,
She comes unstoppable. She comes
Dirt under her fingernails and unbrushed hair
She comes with the scent of earth on her skin.
At her heels, backyard gardens leap into life
At her hands, honeybees once dead take flight.
For the earth and all that is in it singing the blues
the Spirit brings gospel choir good news
The hope of a groaning world renewed,
For the mountains will have peace
And the ocean reefs abound,
The purple starfish return to Howe Sound11
The forests dance for their Creator crowned
In the days when the Spirit comes.

11 | Howe Sound (Atl’ka7tsem in Squamish) has experienced a mass mortality of sea stars, symptomatic of sea star wasting disease which has been connected to ocean warming and climate change. In recent years, observers have documented high densities of baby sea stars re-settling in the area. Photo: Donna Gibbs/Oceanwise

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