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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dreaming


            God’s Forgotten Language is the title that Episcopal priest and Jungian psychotherapist John Sanford gave to a book he authored several decades ago. I discovered it around 1980, long before I spent nearly three years in Jungian analysis. During that period of time I would record my dreams as soon as I could after waking. You get really good at remembering your dreams after you establish a discipline of recording them before they slither snakelike down a bottomless hole  I would go to see my analyst once a week with sometimes a sheaf of paper on which I had scratched out the contours of almost as many as two dozen dreams of varying lengths. We would select one or two that seemed to me the most puzzling or interesting or compelling and we would focus on what those dreams were telling me. 

            In that whole experience I came to appreciate Sanford’s title as well as the book that bore it. I came to see that deep down in the recesses of my unconscious mind Truth was walking to and fro. Truth communicates itself to us in various ways, through symbol, ritual, relationships, experience, but none more powerful than dreams. Some of you will tell me that you don’t dream. Perhaps not, but my experience is that there is a difference between not dreaming and not remembering one’s dreams. When the soul is especially restless to grow, or seeking peace, or trying to find balance, dreams tend to come bringing messages to the conscious mind through symbols. And since it is Truth that is speaking—for your dreams won’t lie to you—it is fair to call Truth by one of its other names: God. 

José de Ribera, "El Sueño de Jacob," 1639
            Jacob dreams his famous dream of a ladder bridging earth and heaven when he is at a turning point in his life.  He is on the run having lied to his father, and having cheated both father and brother through tricking the old man into blessing him instead of his elder twin brother. This is not the kind of mess that we commonly suppose produces the stuff of deep spiritual experience. Which goes to show how mistaken we can be about what “spiritual” experience really is. There are several details in the story that hint at what the story is about. First, he comes to a place at sundown, takes a stone and uses it for a pillow. I suppose that isn’t so strange, given the number of stones in the Holy Land, though I cannot but wonder why that little detail was preserved in the story. Hold on to it for a little while and we’ll come back to that. Then comes the dream. There is a ladder in the dream that reaches from earth to heaven.  On it angels are ascending and descending. If you think for a minute, I suspect you might agree that if you or I were telling the story, we might say it the other way around. Angels are heavenly beings to most of us, and it would be natural to imagine them first descending to earth and then ascending again to heaven. But that isn’t what the story says. The angels ascend and descend.  Hold on to that detail as well. Finally the Lord God in his dream stands beside Jacob. Not face-to-face, not over him, but beside him. 

            It is easy to be caught up in the substance of the message that Yahweh delivers, the essence of the promise to the patriarchs. “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.  I will not leave you till I have done for you what I have promised.” To be sure, that is not incidental to the story. But first, look at these little details, beginning with the stone. I have never used a stone for a pillow because I have always had softer choices. But whatever else a stone is, it is of the very earth itself. This is not the only place that stone figures into the story, for at the very end we see Jacob taking it, setting it upright as a pillar, and anointing it, in effect marking it as holy.  So there is a connection between the stone, the dream, and the holy. What might that mean?  Jacob seems to think, waking from his astonishing dream and its revelation of divine purpose, that there is something divine about the place itself. “This is the house of God, the very gate of heaven.” There are such places. Perhaps you have been to one or more. We tend to speak in contemporary language of how there is a certain “energy” in such a place. Maybe that is our way of saying what Jacob recognizes as well and articulates it in his own vocabulary:  “House of God, gate of heaven.” The earth is filled with the Presence of the Maker, not just human beings, and not just other sentient creatures, but the trees, the clouds, the weeds, and even the rocks and stones. Every electron encircling a nucleus of an atom bears the stamp of its creator.  The stone that Jacob uses for a pillow is, like his own body, charged. It might not have been hyperbole that caused Jesus to say at one point, “If these [disciples and crowds] are silenced, even the stones will cry out.” If you think that everything in the universe does not have some ultimate worth and is therefore worthy to be cared for, think again. Sometimes stones become pillows and the heads they support dream weird and magical dreams.

            And in Jacob’s dream, angels first ascend. What does this mean? Jacob is on a journey of transformation, though he does not know it. His whole life will be an amazing learning experience born of love, rivalry, reconciliation, wounding, grief, and profound joy. And his, like all journeys of transformation, begins at home on the earth and in the earth. Like everything else in every dream, the angels, the ladder, all are parts of Jacob’s soul, projected, as it were, onto a screen for him to view. What Jacob sees is the truth that the way up is the way down and vice versa. Going deeply into bodily life is the path of the soul. The soul loves the body, its senses, the delight of good food, the warmth of a fire, the pleasure of music, the ecstasy of erotic energy. Ascending to the heights where we can view all as One is the path of the spirit. They complement each other.

Angel at Dusk

           
Then God stands beside Jacob. This is a great and lovely insight. Long before there is anything remotely like a story of Jesus or a theology of incarnation, this old story grasps the truth that God is on our side. God takes a place alongside every Jacob and Rachel and Leah, not over against them. Many people have trouble with God essentially because, whether or not they “believe in” God, they think that the whole notion of God is that God is fundamentally a spoil-sport that really is out to get human beings, ready to strike or punish, and ultimately must be bought off with religious actions or sacrifices in order finally to accept human beings. In other words, God is a punitive parent either to be feared and placated, or to be mocked and dismissed as useless or unreal. Notice that God is ready to empty all measure of blessing on Jacob, even though Jacob has arrogated to himself every means of acquiring that blessing as if it all depended upon him and his wits. No, God is at our side, says the dream. And there is no bottom to God’s blessing, even for thieves on the run.          
           
            God’s forgotten language, that is dreams, is forgotten for at least two reasons. First, because we generally don’t pay much attention to dreams and frequently imagine that they are unimportant compared to the everyday projects we have of working, earning a living, raising kids, and so forth. Second, dreams are in most ways the exact opposite of rational thought. Dreams don’t know logic. They don’t know common sense. They don’t shrink to fit our ready-made categories. They speak of things we wouldn’t think of uttering in public. They catch our attention and then trick and confuse us. If Sanford is right that this is the primary language in which God communicates to us, then that says something amazing about God. God smashes our small thought patterns, wrecks the assumptions of our egos, rearranges our values, and leaves us with far more questions than answers. Most religion and most of its adherents imagine that God is full of certainties and is interested mainly in managing human beings, not freeing them. 

            Jacob when we meet him at the place of the dream is not a mature individual. He has much to learn and much to suffer. But he gets the point rather quickly. He recognizes that he is on holy ground. The ground is not holy because of the stone. It is holy because the Holy One has spoken in the dream. 

            Sarah Flower Adams took this story and used its imagery to shape her well-known and much loved hymn, “Nearer, my God, to thee.” Adams, a Unitarian, penned a poem as full as any of Christian conviction:

Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down,
Darkness be over me, my rest a stone;
Yet in my dreams I’d be nearer, my God, to Thee.
Then, with my waking thoughts bright with Thy praise,
Out of my stony griefs Bethel I’ll raise;
So by my woes to be nearer, my God, to Thee.
William Blake, "Jacob's Dream," pen and ink, ca. 1800
Is it possible to see that it is not just our personal woes and griefs, but the great mass of human disappointments and failures, all symbolized by Jacob’s own trickery and deceit, that become a pillar marking the fact that straight through the pile of sin and stinking shame the Holy One has walked? Can we imagine the Holy One anointing those stony hearts of ours with the oil of great joy and gladness and healing them? Might we awake from some of our own dreams, even nightmares, and arise to offer thanks for the Grace that takes our breath away and leaves us startled, saying, “Surely the Presence of the Lord was in this place and I didn’t even know it”?
            There is a passage near the beginning of the Fourth Gospel in which Jesus says to Nathaniel, whom he calls to join him in discipleship, “Do you believe me because I said I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these. Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” So it is not just Jacob’s dream after all. It is God’s dream, a dream shared with the likes of Nathaniel and Joan and Becky and Zach and Sean. God’s language doesn’t know national borders or ethnic divisions. God’s language is the Word that speaks out of the depths of our souls, no matter who we are. And the message is still the same: “Know that I will be with you and will keep you wherever you go.”
A sermon based on Genesis 28:10-19a
© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2017



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Friday, July 14, 2017

Letting Go

In The Fantasticks, El Gallo says, "There is a curious paradox that no one can explain: who understands the secrets of the reaping of the grain? Who understands why spring is born out of winter's laboring pain, or why we all must die a bit before we grow again?"
Life has but one central problem: the need to let go. With the possible exception of abject deprivation, nearly every symptom, complex, problem, issue that humans experience can be traced to some dimension of the need to release something that is hindering or blocking. Sometimes it is not necessarily a bad thing that we need to let go of. It may be beautiful, precious, or a talent aching to be shared. The athlete who is training, intent on breaking his or her record, must let go of fear, self-doubt, or perhaps behaviors that would drain off needed energy to push forward past the present limit. Sometimes it is an addiction, or grief, or self-loathing, or some emotion or memory. Sometimes whatever we need to shed is obvious if not easy. Sometimes it is hidden, maybe insidious.
Take any path, religious, spiritual, psychological, or some other—any path that will lead you to know yourself and not some false image of yourself—and you will find that the destination is a place of peace. Strangely it comes not from anything you possess, material or non-material, but from what you are able to part with.
The heart of discipleship is having nothing you cannot afford to lose. Only when we are able to lose it all do we ever discover the proper place of the obverse of letting go: holding on. That is the paradox. Grasping and holding, especially for the insecure, will always be more powerfully attractive than letting go. Letting go feels like dying because it is an act of dying.
But letting go comes with a very big warning. Be sure when you let go that what is left you give to a good and true Master, whoever that may be, called by whatever name. For when the house is swept clean, the demons compete to occupy it.
Letting go never ends. That is why it is ultimately transformative. We all must die a bit before we grow again.




© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2017

Monday, July 03, 2017

Bound


 Genesis 22:1-14

Many folks have a hard time with stories in the Bible in which God seems to be the opposite of what we want our heroes and heroines, let alone, our Deity to be. Sometimes God appears to be a trickster, capricious, and monumentally unfair. We tend not to find such a God either trustworthy or inspiring. So when we come upon a text like the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac, revolt is in the air. It is one of those stories that one has to take pains to explain God’s actions on display. How could a just and loving God jerk around a good old fellow like Abraham with such a horrible, repulsive plan as to commit infanticide? And with that, a great many folks check out of the play completely.

Too bad, really. This story is less about God than about the wiles of the human heart. In fact, I’d say that any story about God is inseparable from the stuff of the human heart—for the only way we can know anything about God is by reading the tea leaves of experience. So if we begin not exactly as the text does, with God saying something outrageous to Abraham, but rather with the human relationship of a father and a son, we might more readily see what the story is driving at.

The twenty-second chapter of Genesis is about ten chapters into a story about an old man who was distinguished not by his morality but by his faith. And faith had nothing to do, as indeed it rarely does, with religious performance, but rather with a capacity to trust. Abraham picks up stakes and leaves his native land deep in the area near the Persian Gulf and moves northwest up the Euphrates River valley to a place called Haran, somewhere in present-day Syria. From there he moves southward towards the Mediterranean coast. Abraham is old. His wife Sarah is barren. One day three strangers come along and talk with Abraham, announcing that sometime the following spring Sarah will bear a child.  The child is to be named Isaac, a sort of joke riffing on the fact that Sarah, eavesdropping on the conversation, giggles when she hears that after all these years after menopause and no baby she is, as she puts it, going to "have pleasure."

To this aged couple Isaac is beyond special. He is the seal of divine promise, the proof of God’s faithfulness, the fulfillment of hope, the dream child bringing laughter to life. Who would not dote on such a boy? We know from other stories in this saga that Abraham is incredibly generous and no stranger to sacrificing and offering. It is a part not only of his culture but his nature. So we might imagine that as the boy grows, Abraham begins to ponder whether maybe he doesn’t love the boy a little too much, or a lot too much. He has another son, Ishmael, whose mother is or was Sarah’s slave, Hagar. By comparison, Ishmael holds nothing to compare with Isaac. Abraham is no fool. His relatively recent acquaintance with “God Most High” is bound up with the idea that absolutely nothing comes between him and that God. And yet—here is the boy. Could it be that Abraham becomes possessed of the notion that somehow Isaac has to go? See the neighboring cult of Moloch, where child sacrifice is regularly practiced? Maybe they have it right. The feeling becomes daily more powerful. Abraham becomes convinced that what is in his gut is nothing less than the movement of what you and I might call Holy Spirit. Take the boy to the land of Moriah and sacrifice him there, far away from the inevitable devastation of his grief-crazed mother. Abraham is bound and determined.

Caravaggio, "Sacrifice of Isaac"
Abraham is bound. He is sure that he is doing the right thing. You know what it is like because you have been Abraham. You have been utterly convinced that you knew what you were doing. Maybe it was the time that you quit your job, or said yes to a marriage proposal, or decided you had to move, or turned down an offer that was most attractive. Something deep inside moved you to believe you were right. And you might have been! But right or wrong, you were bound. It was as if on some level you were being moved by forces beyond your control.

The irony is that it is exactly that state that frequently makes possible the alliance between the soul and its Maker that will change not only you but others around you and perhaps quite literally the world you live in. It is the ability, or more precisely the gift, of letting go of your conscious willing need—your dearest love, your fondest hopes, your Isaac—and march off into the land of Moriah which is all misty and foggy in the early morning when only a hunch tells you that you’re on the right track. So you take your Isaac by the hand and walk up the mountain. It is anything but easy, but you know in your heart that you’re doing what you have to do.

Rembrandt "Abraham's Sacrifice of Isaac"
But Abraham’s isn’t the only way of being bound. Isaac is a vulnerable child, not an adult. He instinctively trusts his dad. He wonders what’s going on, and feels in the pit of his stomach something’s amiss. He senses the tension in the older man. “Here’s the wood. Here’s the fire. Where’s the lamb?” They get to the place, a great stone table. Suddenly Isaac understands. Does he scream? Plead? Convulse with tears, begging as I did when I was a child about to get a whipping. “No, Sir, please, please, please don’t….” Blindfolded, bound, the splinters of the logs stab his young flesh.

You know what it’s like to be Isaac because chances are you have been bound like Isaac. Bound to someone’s agenda. Bound by somebody stronger, bound by circumstances you had no way of changing, bound by habits you honestly couldn’t quit, bound by forces well beyond yourself, but in a different way from the bound and determined Abraham. Isaac is a victim, handed over to suffering and in just a hair’s breadth of being handed over to death.

When we look at the story like this, though we might not be able to match it up exactly with our personal experience, we can see that what is playing out is a well known dynamic in human history. Yet something happens that changes everything. At the moment when the knife is drawn and the shaky old hand is ready to come down with the fatal blow, time stops. Maybe it is a moment of insight. Abraham! Abraham! What are you thinking? Hold on! This is not what God wants. Not death, Abraham, but life! And as the knife falls clattering on stone, Abraham must think something like, “Oh my God! Oh my God! How could I have been so wrong, so stupid? I just didn’t understand. I thought I was following the deepest voice within me. Now I see that I was way off base.”

That, you may argue, is not how the story goes. But it is how my story goes. Sometimes when I have been most certain that I was doing exactly the right thing in the right way I have come to see that I had it all wrong.  One such time happened when I was rector of my first parish.  We had a youth retreat.  One of the kids invited a friend to come along.  His name was Ian.  He was Jewish.  A cute kid, he was a spark of light in the group, and obviously liked being among us.  On Sunday morning I foresaw what was coming.  We were going to celebrate a eucharist and, as a priest who wanted to do everything just right, I knew I couldn’t share the Body and Blood of Christ with an unbaptized person.  So I pulled Ian aside and told him what was about to happen.  I explained why I wouldn’t be able to share the communion with him, and asked him if he understood.  He said he did.  Well, he didn’t understand what I was saying and was probably too embarrassed to admit so.  When I was distributing communion around the circle, Ian reached out his young Jewish hands and I reached up and gave him a blessing instead of the bread.  He blushed scarlet.  At the end of communion he made a bee line  out of the circle.  I went to him and tried to explain.  He was polite.  Polite and devastated.  He never came back.  If I had the chance to relive my ministry I’d make a bee line to that moment and change it.  I look back and say about that “Abraham” moment, “How could I have been so stupid?” So now what do I do? Wail on myself? Or take a deep breath, realize that I was and am simply human, and come to my senses by the grace of the one whom I really do at bottom love profoundly and want to serve?

I once knew a woman who had an Isaac moment. She sat in her bathtub, razor blade in hand, ready to slit her wrists. She was bound, you see, to depression, which is a cruel master. One might say that it was not she so much as the inner darkness that possessed her that held the blade ready to do the deed. And at that moment came a voice. “Whose woods these are I think I know, his house is in the village though…” She began remembering Robert Frost’s poem and got down to the last lines, “But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and ….” She could not for the life of her remember the last line. Finally, she laid down the blade, got out of the tub, dried herself off, and went in search of the poem. “Do you know,” she wrote to me, “that voice of Frost’s saved me?” Tell me that is not Providence. “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” Right there in the land of Moriah, a bath tub, a bound woman, and a voice.

But then there’s a lamb—a ram, really, but let’s call it a lamb—waiting in a thicket, mute, ready for the moment when nothing but a lamb will do. And you know the name of that Lamb. He is the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God that liberates both those who are bound and determined and those who are bound in helplessness. He himself has been bound as he was when he set his face towards Jerusalem, his own Moriah, bound and determined to get there where he would be bound in another way, mounted on and tied to wood.

In these days when we are thinking about and celebrating liberation and freedom, we would do well to remember that more is in play than our national story. Moving not only in the global sphere of human affairs but in lives like mine and yours and Abraham’s and Isaac’s is a mysterious Stranger who at once likes us bound to his service but at the same time teaches us that that service is perfect freedom. When at times we have it all wrong, he is there to stay our hand calling us back to our senses. And when we are most helpless, there he is, waiting for the chance to set the captives free, even to the point of becoming a captive himself.

© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2017





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Sunday, June 04, 2017

Straight Talk About Pentecost


For Christ Church, Old Durham Parish, Nanjemoy, Maryland


I’ve often said that as long as it’s possible to walk into a CVS or a Target and not find a section of Pentecost cards, the Church might have a chance at having at least one holiday that is not totally co-opted by popular culture.  To my knowledge Pentecost has not become a growth industry, and I think I know why.  First, it has no symbol that is easily packaged to appeal to popular imagination.  There is no baby, no barnyard, no cemetery, no open grave.  We look in vain for three crosses on a landscape made rosy in the dawn.  There is no handsome or beautiful saint, like a Patrick or a Mary, nor any ethnic group that associates itself with Pentecost. 

Pentecost is out of this world.  Not because it really has to do with some world beyond our own, but precisely because it blasts our preconceptions about this very world we live in.  Most of the time we imagine that this world is knowable, subject to scientific investigation or logical dissection, and that is, of course true.  Except when it’s not.  There are dimensions of life that don’t lend themselves to analysis or reason or clear explanation.  They are the stuff not only of poetry but fairly bizarre poetry.  They are mysterious, beyond taming, defying ordinary experience. 

 Pentecost by J. Garemijn (1750) one of 14 paintings of the mysteries of Rosary in Saint Walburga Church, Bruge, Belgium

Take for example Luke’s description of The Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, an account that the Church reads every year.  The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples sends them reeling into tongue-speaking, a phenomenon certainly not unknown in some Christian circles as well as in other religious groups, but which surely doesn’t lend itself to mass marketing.  The account itself tells us that people at the time didn’t know what to make of the cacophony of languages, authentic languages that could in fact be understood by people who actually spoke and understood them.  So what did the masses do?  They pooh-poohed the whole event as a bunch of people who were drunk.  That’s the sort of response that our own culture tends to make to things it patently doesn’t comprehend.  Well, it’s some sort of aberration, we say.  Or there must be some mistake in the story itself.  We kick out of serious discussion what doesn’t fit our worldview.

What is with Pentecost, then? 

To begin with, Pentecost is an unmistakably hard thing for many to grasp exactly because it is something that doesn’t originate with human beings.  The point of Pentecost is that it is a grace-filled event that is initiated by God.  And it is not in the strictest sense God’s response to human prayers, for example.  Nobody in the story is asking for such a thing as Pentecost.  Quite the contrary.  From heaven, that is from some place outside predictable experience, comes a sound like the rush of a violent wind.  It fills the house where the disciples have gathered, still a band of directionless people not knowing quite what to do, though they have been told to “wait.”  They do nothing to provoke this wind or its results.  Weird stuff:  divided tongues as of fire alight on the heads of these disciples.  They begin to speak in tongues not their own. 

Like so many things in the Bible, this story is a combination of a historical event, an interpretation of the event, and a whole trunkful of symbols that point to truths far beyond bare facts, symbols that attempt to convey things well outside ordinary experience.  So tongues of fire, a house full of wind, an outbreak of strange speech all point to something here that is new.

You’ll notice that one of the things human beings constantly do is to try to understand the new by putting it side by side with something that we know, or at least something that relates the new to the past.  So it is with Pentecost.  If we go on to read what follows the wind, flame, and tongue-speaking, we hear Peter addressing the people of Jerusalem, saying, “These people are not drunk, as you suppose, at 9 AM, but this is what the Prophet Joel prophesied, when he said, ‘In the last days… God declares, “I will pout out my Spirit upon all flesh and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.  Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit and they shall prophesy.”’” Now what is interesting is not just that Peter finds an old piece of scripture using it to explain the newness of the event, but that he chooses something that itself is laden with radical newness.  If ever you wanted something ancient that blasts open all kinds of preconceptions, Joel’s passage will fit the bill:  he talks about the spiritual capacity of both sexes, the obliteration of the distinctions of age and experience, and even sees that slaves and free people are on a par as far as being filled with God’s Spirit is concerned.  To Joel this is exactly where history is moving.  His prophecy is about the “last days.”  So, if Peter is on to something in pulling Joel into his sermon, he is saying that this Pentecostal phenomenon is in fact the opening up of a whole new world. As much later the Book of Revelation will say in a similar vein, this is “a new heaven and a new earth, for the former things have passed away.”  And, “the One who sits upon the throne says, ‘I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end,” and “Behold, I make all things new.”

Now you get the idea.  That’s why Pentecost doesn’t sell particularly well.  You know as well as I that “all things new” is not something that the human race is exactly good at wanting.  Sure, we’ll take a new house, a new automobile, a computer upgrade:  it’s fine for things to be new, as long as we have them.  But we?  There is a tremendous resistance on the part of human beings for us ourselves to be made new.  Transformation is something that by its very nature means that we’d be turned inside out, our values upended, our opinions reversed, our thought patterns rearranged, our behavior overhauled, our vision radically altered.  People don’t want that kind of change as a general rule, and they jolly well don’t want to pay for it.

So here is a great and puzzling irony.  Religion, or at least Christianity (if by it we mean the Jesus kind of spiritual practices) turns out not to be nearly so interested in change as it is in preserving the status quo.  It isn’t that what’s old is no good, but that the refusal to be open to what the old (like Joel’s prophecy) actually points to in many cases is ignored and rejected because it’s disruptive. 

Now you would be a rare congregation indeed if at this point some of you are squirming in your seats wondering who this guy is who is preaching the possibility of life-altering change when what we pay preachers generally to do is to assure us that everything is all right even as it is.  You have a venerable history at Christ Church, and you have been in business since 1661, which means your ancestors in this place were using the Prayer Book of Queen Elizabeth I. Who am I to tell you anything? 
Christ Church, Old Durham Parish, Founded 1661, Chartered 1692

Let me assure you that the issue at stake here is not just any kind of change as if change itself involved transformation.  No, sometimes transformative change calls us back to ancient truth, things that native and aboriginal people, or indeed people in the ancient world, knew and understood, and which the power-enchanted ages succeeding them have forgotten.  That’s the difference.  When you’re talking about eternity, there is no past or present or future, none.  Eternity is far beyond “future.”  It transcends time and space.  Which is the point of Pentecost.  The Eternal (heaven) breaks into time.  The Divine infuses the human.  Spirit comes like a shattering wind and fills the material.  This is neither a matter of idolizing the novel and new or getting defensive and picky about protecting the old.  Suddenly, the message of Truth is that all the categories that separate us—sex, age, race, social status, intelligence, experience, and anything else—are out the window, blown away by this wild, powerful Spirit.  And behold, we are at last what we’re created for:  dwelling places, sanctuaries, of that very Spirit.

That’s where the rubber hits the road, folks.  That is what Jesus embodies, Paul taught, the Apostles all came to realize so much that most of them gave their lives living it and teaching it.  It is what precious few people have dared to live out fully because it is never easy and it often looks crazy.  St. Francis was one of the best examples.  St. Clare was another.  And if you start poking around in the stories of others that we call holy, or saintly, or models, or virtuous, we begin to find out that, yes, there really have been hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, of ordinary souls that have caught the vision and have been so altered by it that they’ve too dreamed dreams and have turned them into little and sometimes gigantic pieces of Spirit-filled reality.  Samuel Issac Joseph Schereschewski, Lithuanian Jew turned Episcopal missionary, pecking out on a typewriter translations of the Bible in Chinese with the middle finger of his partially crippled hand; Sojourner Truth, former slave, preaching to the poverty-stricken and to white congregations, working to abolish slavery and to secure women’s rights; Margaret of Scotland, queen who took loaves of bread to the hungry sat listening to and counseling the poor; Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose faith led him to plot the assassination of Hitler for which he was hanged; Thomas Gallaudet, son and husband of deaf-mutes, who closed the border separating the deaf from the hearing; and on and on the list goes, of ordinary people filled with the Spirit who have defied odds, championed the outcast, faced down the powerful, resisted oppressors, stood up for the vulnerable, spent their livelihoods lifting up the miserable, who have painted, written, chiseled, designed, invented, believed, struggled, lost, won, lived.  
Sojourner Truth

Pentecost may be out of this world, but it is not out of your reach.  If you feel the impulse to be more loving, to exercise more care, to tone down your dislike of difficult people, to resist the forces that eagerly pit people against each other and sic the privileged on the vulnerable; if you feel a stirring in your soul to become more the person you know yourself to be but can’t quite pull it off:  stick with it.  Seek and you will find.  Wait till the Spirit has come upon you and power of the Most High overshadows you.  It will take you to places you never have imagined you’d go, doing things that even you may not understand.  But you may be sure that the Spirit of Comfort, Truth, and Love will never leave nor forsake you.  For it is in the likes of you and me that love creates a space where the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.

 
Queen Margaret of Scotland disembarks among the poor she served.


© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2017

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