Pentecost- Kristy Liddell
Manifestations of the Holy Spirit: wind and tongues of fire; sudden, supernatural knowledge; miraculous healings and raising from the dead; people transported instantly to distant places; people shining so brightly others can’t bear to look at them; prisoners freed by angels and earthquakes. And: Finding the right words for another person’s encouragement or guidance. Help deciding where to go next. Seeing past prejudice - even caution and ideas about cleanliness - to another person, complex, dignified, divine. Sobriety. Song. A whole community willing to share material goods. A community that hears the voices of those who complain that they’ve been neglected, and successful administration of meals to all in need. Discernment between what is essential and nonessential in a community.
I need help (and I assume I’m not alone in this) with the connection between wonder at the marvelous and the steady, inconspicuous responsibilities it leaves in its wake, responsibilities that can feel like they dampen wonder and wall off mystery.
I’m tempted to think of the connection as an economic exchange: I pay my pledge, rehearse on Wednesday nights, and usher at compline; I get a beautiful sacred space, good music, and a sublime worship experience.
This economic metaphor means I have a dual role - I can be a consumer, a spectator; I can tiptoe into compline, full of strangers toward whom I easily feel a general goodwill (as long as they’re quiet); I can receive communion and savor the moment, kneeling in a pew and praying reverently (instead of crowding into the back room with the knocking radiator and, thinking, well, really, can we still not figure out how to line up so that we can walk out in rows with some decorum and not like a gaggle of panicked geese?). Or, if I’m not caught up in reverence, I can still be a liturgical connoiseur: Ah, yes, one of my favorite collects; ah, Tallis; what a fine experience!
To sustain this economy, I can be a “producer”: I can do my part to provide an experience for those who are “consumers.” And this concept brings some baggage: pride in a good performance, anger at those who might bring my performance down, fear that it’s not good enough, and, if I’m honest, resentment toward the “consumers” who drop in occasionally and just assume the walls won’t fall down, the windows won’t fall in, there will always be a priest, a music director, a choir, organists, and a congregation as the backdrop for their annual transcendent experience (not very nice, but that’s a producer for you).
Besides the economic metaphor, there’s another set of impulses, roughly overlaid with the consumer/producer roles. One is to just sort of stand around, spiritually, waiting for those transcendent experiences, as if they are all that keep me going. The opposite is to be a nuts-and-bolts behind-the-scenes insider, the Man behind the Curtain, getting to know people and their quirks and little conflicts with others (and maybe reveal mine to a select group), to roll my eyes when so-and-so’s doing such-and-such again, to know all about the falling plaster and falling walls and committees, to be In but not “taken in”, to Know How Everything Works (and How Everything Should Work). It has its consolations--a sense of competence in a predictable sphere, most of all.
Over and over, we revisit this set of poles: Mary/Martha, the prodigal son/the elder brother, aesthetic and ethical.
Oh, how we want and need them to connect and to start merging, so that we don’t become shallow and dabbling or jaded and resentful, so that we see our daily places, people, and work are full of God.
Oh, how I need them to be pure: to have moments when all the business and all my self-consciousness drops away and a Bach fugue knocks me into God like a tsunami; to have times when I realize I can find sheer will to get out of bed and do the dishes and meet perplexing people and be nice and just Do Work when everything feels utterly empty.
I hope the Holy Spirit shows up somewhere in all of this ebb and flow, to help us live with ourselves and with each other. While we celebrate tongues of fire and a new calling, while sermons are about surprises and disruptions, some of us are precariously balanced, either in the pews or pulpits, in sacristies or soup kitchens, homebound or hospitalized, held up by habits when the easiest disruption is despair. And as we go through the long green life of ordinary time, some of us will have moments or days when the ordinary is overwhelmed with some blazing, glorious God.
How, in God’s name, do we share all that with each other? In an earlier draft I wrote that I thought that mainline protestants might struggle more than others to talk about that connection between God and ordinary life, but I’ve scratched it out. Surely everyone struggles to open up when languages of transcendence encounter languages of sophistication (or anti-intellectualism), of doubt, of doctrine (I don’t use this term disparagingly), of morality, of loyalty, of convention, of conviction, of uncertainty over something crucial, of lament, of nostalgia, of hope, of sheer boredom and weariness. What if I try to share something true and say it falsely? What if I try to share something sacred, and someone chuckles politely, or argues, or doesn’t even hear? What if I try to share the one thing that’s holding me up and someone knocks it down? What if I feel that I need to make a genuine moral effort at something and someone thinks I’m extreme? Or neurotic? Or self-righteous? Or joking? What if I sound delusional, or drunk (at 9 in the morning!)?
What if God is lost in translation? Not only between us, but within us, from transcendent moment to the ways we try to carry that moment forward into everyday life? How can we keep ourselves and our community together, let alone grow together, share everything, welcome strangers?
Even so. It seems we’re encouraged to believe that the Holy Spirit is about translation: visions to meals, marvelous healings to moral dilemmas, rehearsals to revelations, compline to conversations about the Cadillac hotel. What on earth does it look like, I wonder, to trust that translator a little more? Or even fully?