Pentecost arrived early this year. I woke the morning after the 27th school shooting this year in the United States* with the sound of birdsong at 5am. I had left my window open a crack the night before, and the loud racket in the trees outdoors made my still-sleepy-self regret that earlier decision…except that God used it, of course—like God seems to use just about everything to bring the Kin-dom a wee bit closer it seems.
That crazy birdsong out there sounds like some kind of party…I want to go outside and walk among all that gorgeous sound, I thought for a moment. Then I remembered the children who would not be hearing that sound today and my energy to move evaporated.
I realized I needed to stand still instead. A few weeks ago, on Mother’s Day, I stood silently at 1pm local time with the worldwide group of StandingWomen** to once again commit myself to standing for the well-being of the world’s next seven generations of children—that they might have the clean water, food, nurture, education, and freedom from violence that they need to thrive.
I remembered Sharon Mehdi’s tale written for her 5-yr.-old granddaughter, The Great Silent Grandmother Gathering**, and I felt Spirit lift me from my place of helpless despair. My feet hit the floor. I stepped into where my spouse was listening to the morning news program describing the latest details of Uvalde and felt a bubble of emotion rise as I told him, “I’m going to Lansing today. I have to do this.”
It rained in Lansing at the State Capitol most of the time I was there. It reminded me of the tears of God’s grief that scripture tells us flooded the Earth in the face of humanity’s senseless violence back in Noah’s day. I parked at the corner of Ottawa St. and Capitol Ave. and discovered the chapel of Central First United Methodist Church. I need to go in there first and find myself, I thought. The chapel’s doors were heavily gated and padlocked, so I rang the bell intercom and the office administrator came out to meet me. “Could I just come in to sit and pray for a bit in your sanctuary?” I asked her. “Uh, I don’t know…let me check.” The effects of violence are everywhere.
The facilities manager was more than happy to take me to the chapel and turn on the lights for me, where I collapsed in the front row pew, grateful to have the time and space to let my emotions be felt and processed. I tried my usual ways of breathing and praying, but couldn’t stay focused, and so I didn’t try. I just let the space pray for me.
The first thing I noticed was that the hymnal on the piano in front of me was opened to #381 Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us. I had sung this hymn earlier in the week where I work as a chaplain with a group of elders, and I remembered the many people who had lived and worked here in the state’s capital, many members of the church in which I sat, who had also followed the lead of our Shepherd in doing the Pentecost Dance.
We practice the presence of God so that we can practice the presence of people.
This is what it means to “do the dance” with the Lord of Life. We discern what dance moves we need to learn in order to follow God’s lead, which will probably include doing something that takes us out of our comfortable places.
I suddenly noticed that the chapel was covered in a blood-red plush carpet; the comfort of the pew cushion I was sitting on belied the Passionate Power of God held in the hearts of God’s dance partners over the ages—passion that invited the sacrifices of servanthood…
…and not just the sacrifice of putting other people’s needs first—that’s pretty easy sometimes. But sacrifices like giving up the comfort of being in control of my response to life’s heartbreaks. These are much harder for me.
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16: 24, 25
As I continued soaking up the symbols of God’s presence with God’s people through the ages in that little chapel, I did find myself. I’ve heard that the word religion comes from the Latin “ligare,” meaning “to bind”, “to connect.” And so “re-ligare” means something like “to re-bind, to re-connect.” Indeed.
The sacred space swathed me in images (like the ones pictured above from the chapel’s ceiling) which allowed me to find myself, to reconnect to my heart once again. One of the images included a large plastic loaf of bread and an obviously fake cluster of purplish-red grapes beside it. Initially, I rolled my eyes at the cheesiness of this “pseudo” Eucharist meal sitting on the altar space collecting dust. But after marinating in the Love a little longer, I penned this into my journal:
What am I being asked to do to put myself on the altar up there with the bread and the vine? To let my own blood mingle with the red blood and passion of the martyrs and saints whose lives were given in the liberation of others? Sitting on this blood-red cushion and carpet is a visceral reminder of what we’re being invited to participate in—the giving away of one’s life (time, focus, energy, resources money, networks) for the sake of Christ.
I am returning on Wednesday next week to the corner of Ottawa and Capitol to continue my investigation into what new dance moves I need to learn next. While we celebrate the party of Pentecost just one day each year, the music of it certainly has a way of breaking down barriers of fear and resistance to newness every which way—every day of the year. Thanks be to God.