Tag Archives: mystery

Trinity and Holy Spirit and Pentecost

When I was a baby Christian and Pentecost came up for the first time I was completely baffled; the children’s sermon went into how it is the “birthday of the church”. The promised power that Jesus said was coming arrived and in this dramatic fashion the church was born. While that is a viewpoint, I think it misses the point of a lot of things.

It really might be only this year that I truly got that this is about the Holy Spirit descending upon those gathered together. And that the Holy Spirit is in the world, with us, a connection between human and God, living, breathing. Somehow!

Acts 2:1-13 is so mysterious and the Holy Spirit is so mysterious.

I don’t know where I have read this, but it isn’t me inventing this image for the mystery: it is a dance, a relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and that they open, with love, the dance up to us is breath-taking and amazing. Why would Godself open Godself’s perfect dance and perfect relationship up to us? Love us that much? That is breath-taking. That is humbling. That is grace.

I don’t think it would be proper or true to say that the dance started with Pentecost — God is God and we humans walked with Godself in the first Garden. But certainly it could be true to say that sin and brokenness have interrupted our part of the dance. Pentecost was the moment when once again humanity was able to dance with God.

Perhaps the Holy Spirit is even now — right now — reaching out to each one of us hoping to dance, out of a depth and richness of love that we truly cannot imagine.

But of course this makes it sound completely lovely and even, perhaps, safe. I think the imagery of Acts 2 is pretty clear that the experience was far different for Peter and the gang!

But’s let stop here for now. Close our eyes and breath and know that really we are dancing with God, or could be.

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Acts 2:1-13, Pentecost

Since becoming a Christian, I have loved Pentecost. Before I was a Christian, I had never even heard of it. So no doubt part of the appeal is the “exotic” nature of it. You are supposed to wear red clothes to church that day. And at my church people who speak a different language all read the story together – it is noisy and strange and the combination of voices means nothing can be heard (in contrast to the story itself where each heard their language).  It is very mystical – it is so mystical that the Church gives it only one Sunday, whereas Easter and Christmas have weeks of Sundays. This Holy Spirit stuff is too much and too strange.

This year Pentecost is really speaking to me: poetry is flooding me, thoughts are washing over me. So let’s backtrack the liturgical year this summer and breath into Acts 2: 1-13. Let’s create a Pentecost season, just us.

Let’s start with a list of things to consider.

The Holy Spirit! God, in fact.

There are flames of tongues appearing over heads.

There is a “sound like the rush of a violent wind”.

Peter and the others were “all together in one place”… the wind “filled the entire house where they were sitting”.

They spoke in other languages.

The Crowd is back, and hearing the noise, they come. Are they outside the house? Are they pushing inside? Are they first responders or just being curious? Remember that being “amazed and astonished” are a far cry from faithful and understanding.

Some wondered.

Others sneered and said they were drunk.

 

Fire and wind and noise are in other stories of scripture; think burning bush and Elijah for example. Of course language and communication is important – we are People of the Book after all, and Jesus is the Word of God. Language is everything. But specifically how about comparing and contrasting the sudden ability to speak a language not one’s own with the story of the tower of Babel when multiple languages started and suddenly people could not understand other people?

Let’s think about the sudden quality and the violent quality of this story.

As far as I can tell from searching my own blog, I haven’t before written much about Pentecost, but I did touch on it here. And here I wrote about doves, which in other stories seem to be an image or motif for the Holy Spirit.

And what about “power”? “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” What sort of power is this?

My story part 10

In writing down parts of “my story” I have come to realize that I’m basically really dull; and thank God. There’s no story of how I over came tragedy, my childhood was in the realm of normal misery, there’s nothing that makes me special in the world’s eyes: I hold no power in terms of who I am or what I do or who I know. I am surrounded by many blessings that I would hate to lose. But I’m ordinary: a sinner and a child of God.

I am deeply deeply grateful to have followers and “likes”; to be heard anyway.

What has surprised me about writing down these bits of my story – my “comfort zone” with God seems to be mystery. I’m perfectly okay with the mystery of the Trinity, with the mystery of God’s greatness, with the mystery of Grace, with the mystery of what exactly happened when Jesus died on the Cross and why did it have to happen and all that it means. Of course I keep reading and dwelling in scripture and other writings to push into the mystery. But “mystery” does not scare me. I know and trust that God loves me, that God loves. That love wins. So the mysteries are exciting. The mysteries are the rest of the story. They won’t limit my faith or derail my faith. I can embrace learning how all this works and how the people of the past (the “Saints”) have thought about it all. And how knowledge changes and circles back and moves forward.

That’s soooo Presbyterian of me, yes?

Perhaps my personal worst suffering was in losing my first two pregnancies. One was a “normal” miscarriage and the other was more involved. A sonogram showed a very deformed fetus: no kidneys for example. While it was clearly not a pregnancy that was going to come to term we opted to have the new-at-that-time testing to see if the problem might be genetic. At that time, as best I recall, there was a three-week wait for the test results.

And that whole time was unexpectedly peaceful. Our whole church was praying for us; our Pastors were supportive and understanding; our families and friends loved us. By rights I should have been weeping daily. Instead I felt surrounded by angel feathers, wrapped in a blanket, cherished. Being held in prayer; being held in the light seemed to bring light and peace to me. I didn’t pray for a miracle; I didn’t pray in words. Prayer was something like:

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)

Not that there is a right or wrong way to face times of trouble — God will meet you where you are. Emmanuel God-with-us.

It’s a mystery of love.

 

My story, part 5

Now I seem compelled to share a story about middle school. Did you just shudder? Yes, for anyone not familiar with American school, middle school is about when you are 13, maybe from age 12 to 14, it differs a little for everyone and depending on where you live. But of course that is a terrifying time (was that just me?) because everything is different! And scientifically, I have since learned as a parent, that is when the brain takes a leap. That is when (I think) more “critical thinking skills” can begin.

That is when kids at the bus stop started telling me that I was going to hell for not believing in Jesus.

Telling someone they are going to hell is really not a way to convert anyone, by the way, can we all agree?

Nor is fear, yes?

But I was made of pretty tough stuff.

“There’s no hell,” I said, eyes rolling.

“Jesus was maybe a good teacher, but seriously — God?”

“A God who would put me in Hell for not believing but put a killer in Heaven for believing at the very last minute of life — that’s not a God worthy of faith.”

The poor bus stop kids started leaving me alone about going to hell.

All of those responses are still a part of me, somehow, even though now I would say that yes, Jesus was/is/will be “very God and very Man” and it’s over my pay grade to explain that. It is, after all, the stories about the walking, talking, healing, human Jesus that fascinate me, and stories/parables he told, and, above all, the amazing mysterious willingness to die for us, all of us, even me, even me back in middle school. And you can take the Unitarian out of the girl, but never the Univeralist. God’s got us, each of us, and she won’t let any of us — be nothing?– because ultimately “love wins”.

May you, all of you, feel God-beloved right at this moment — a moment of stillness perhaps, or a moment of joy, or a moment of rest, or a moment in the midst of a busy day. May you feel beloved.

My Story, 2

But a nice Unitarian Universalist girl doesn’t just — get zapped by God and join the church — no there was a good two years or a bit more space between the two events. It was sort of like how you want to be sure your true love is a keeper, so you have to wait for the love beams to settle a bit, about two years, and then think: is this someone who is dependable? funny? kind? loving? wise? Do you love your person anyway, even when you don’t understand?

One thing I did was to reach out to our pastor, Carol. Carol married us, but I didn’t want the emotions and the “high” of the wedding cloud my decision about joining the church, cloud my becoming (or not) an official follower of Jesus.

And so finally, as a nice Unitarian Universalist girl, I had to pull the trigger on what seemed to me then the biggest stumbling block, the absolute barrier to Christianity. (Your mileage may vary.)

We were meeting  in her book-filled office, and it was late afternoon, and there was that lovely smell of books and dust and a bit of perfume. I leaned forward.

Carol came alert and open and welcoming in her posture.

“Carol,” I said. “The thing is. What about the trinity?”

“The trinity?” she echoed.

“You know, I’ve always been told and believed, at most one God. Now three?”

“Oh,” she said. “The trinity. Well.”

I was expecting her to dust off some books and hand me a stack of reading. Or to lean back and provide some memorized answer. Or perhaps even a joke. My mind was blank, truly, because my whole future rested on her answer. If the trinity thing was too stupid, then I just could not be a Christian. And maybe that would be easier? I was leaning forward and tense.

“It’s a mystery,” she said.

“A mystery?” I echoed. I felt myself smile.

“A mystery,” she said firmly.

I exhaled and breathed in a wonderful new deep breath. I can live with mystery. I can swim in mystery. I sat back.

I can love mystery.

Of course twenty-plus years later I have read books and essays and so on about the trinity, and I have come to love and embrace the dance of God’s love. And I still love mystery.

You start where you start. 

 

A time for Silence?

So what is prayer?  There’s praise, intercessory and thankfulness? There’s the connecting-with-God type of prayer? Both, right? But the connecting-with-God folks tend to be a bit prideful, maybe, just suggesting…..that’s big thing to try to do, to try to listen for God. Yet there are times when I do feel that God is right here with me. So the whole prayer thing — something I’ve done always — suddenly all sorts of questions! And don’t start with me about the “sometimes God says ‘no’ or ‘not now’ answers to prayers”. That’s so pat. That’s so easy. That makes God out to me a big bully — sorry, nope your loved one dies despite all your prayers; nope you suffer from that illness; no, no, no. Don’t get me wrong, I get that God gets it. I understand that God’s ways might be miles above my pay grade. But I don’t like easy answers to suffering. I’d rather just have a mystery.

God’s not magic to solve everything.

Anyway, in reading Psalms, reading about prayer — all sorts of questions. For my class I wrote this:

Silence. Silence in prayer is where we are listening. Perhaps something tangled will become clear. Perhaps something too terrible for words can be shared with God. Perhaps it is just for us, resting in acceptance of both God’s love and God’s mystery. Last night’s lecture was on intercessory prayer, but the communion-with-God prayer is what is harder. It is easy to say “God bless….” and it is easy to say “Thank you God for….” Just being in silence, waiting, listening, hoping, trusting — this is harder and (I think) needs a willingness to listen to yourself, a willingness to know yourself that can be very daunting indeed. I’ve very much enjoyed “centering prayer” in different moments of my life, it is with a bit of surprise to realize that I have not done that for a while, a good while. Our pastor spoke recently of different types of silence: being silenced; being voiceless; being in silence; responding with silence. Silence is not of itself a good thing; context is all. God’s silence might be a type of suffering, of sorrow that we’re in pain and sadness.

And that takes us back to Elijah’s “still small voice” or the sound of sheer silence that he heard in the cave on the mountain. He didn’t act as if he had a revelation — he said immediately afterward exactly the same words to God.  I wonder if he looked back later and thought about it and was awed. After all, if Elijah hadn’t told the story, we wouldn’t know the story. Sometimes things take time and a good night sleep and some bread and cheese.

What do you think?