On the final and climactic day of the Feast, Jesus took his stand. He cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says.” (He said this in regard to the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were about to receive. The Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified.)
I did something stupid last night. I was so hungry I ate something that I knew might be risky for someone with my health challenges.
In the middle of the night I woke up feeling short of breath. Of course, with all the warnings going around, I immediately feared I had suddenly come down with covid19. Then I remembered eating a bowl of gluten-free cereal. My body protested. It doesn’t like any grains. So much for sleep.
“I can’t breathe,” I panicked.
As I sat on the edge of the bed and consciously practised the deep breathing methods I taught my singing students for so many years, I remembered how often I have heard this phrase recently. I can’t breathe. “I can’t breathe” is the cry of people critically ill with the virus that has filled so many with fear. It’s the cry at many demonstrations protesting racism. I’ve seen it on shirts, heard it in chants, and listened to people who tell me they feel so stifled, restricted, constricted, and encroached upon by current circumstances it feels like they can’t breathe.
Then there were memories of that traumatic Good Friday our son-in-law was not expected to live. He had sepsis and was on a respirator. He was hemorrhaging into his lungs.
“He can’t breathe on his own,” the doctor said. “We want to send him to a bigger hospital but he’s on 100% oxygen now and they won’t take him on a medivac flight.”
I don’t think a person can be in a more dependent position than to need a machine operated by a respiratory technician to breathe for them. Thousands joined to pray for him and God responded with a miracle. On Pentecost Sunday he walked into a gathering of some of those praying people with perfectly healthy lungs — and all his limbs intact.
In Hebrew, the Holy Spirit is called Ruach HaKodesh. Ruach means breath or wind. Kodesh means holy. It’s the breath of God that made humans come alive. Jesus breathed on his disciples when he imparted the Holy Spirit to them and when the Holy Spirit came in power to the 120 people gathered in an upper room, he entered as a mighty wind.
“I can’t breathe,” I prayed in the dark. “I’ve lost my breath. I need you, Lord. Breathe on me.”
Eventually peace entered the room and I began to breathe normally.
This morning, a song by Marty Goetz played in my head. It’s a prayer for the holy Breath and Spirit Wind of God to come in power and fan the flame that once burned more brightly.
I don’t think I am the only one in the strange circumstances facing us these days to feel that now is a time to acknowledge our need for help and to humbly acknowledge our dependence on Ruach HaKodesh to be our breath. This is also my prayer.
“Blow, Spirit, blow. Come and fill this weary soul. In your mercy send a holy wind. Until you do, I’ll wait for you to breathe on me.”
This morning a friend posted a question: How would your life change if you lived fully loved?
That’s not what I saw, at least the first couple of times I read it. What I saw was this: How would your life change if you lived fully loaded?
She not the kind to promote violence, so I rubbed my eyes and read it again. I realized the way I saw her question at first was actually the answer to her question.
Love is a weapon. Love takes down fear, hate, disappointment, division and hopelessness. Love heals the wounds that wound. Christ came to restore our hearts and relationship with our heavenly Father, the source of all love.
Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we remember that the church began with a group of people meeting in one accord in one place when the Holy Spirit came upon them in power. They were, in a sense, fully loaded by the One who loves perfectly. They went out and changed the world.
How would life change if we, together in one accord, lived fully loaded on love?
God’s love would be seen in demonstrations — demonstrations of power, first in this place, and then in the whole world.
I woke with two songs in my head today. One is The Boxer by Paul Simon. The other is Take Courage by Kristene de Marco. That’s an odd combination.
It’s a puzzle. I feel like the Holy Spirit is dropping breadcrumb hints. I follow. They lead to Jesus Christ, and the pandemic response, and the week between Ascension and Pentecost.
Before he left, Jesus told his disciples it was to their advantage that he leave. That must have been confusing. After he rose from the dead, he told them to wait to be empowered from above. That must have been even more confusing. He had just come back. Something was coming that could not be explained with words common to their experience. They couldn’t understand. All they could do was trust and do as he said.
The Boxer, I realized as I listened again this morning, is about three responses to stress: flight, avoidance, and flight. The boy flees to the city. He succumbs to loneliness and takes comfort in loveless sex. The boxer, “in his anger and his shame,” fights on without success.
Take Courage talks about responding to stress with courage, steadfastness, and trust in a time of waiting when we don’t understand.
Today I heard the cry of more leaders in Christian ministries who are fleeing, self-medicating, and fighting not so gainfully on. All lament they feel like failures. All of them want very much to love others, relieve suffering, fight injustice, and make a difference in the world. They put in maximum effort, but they are exhausted, disappointed, broken.
One burned-out pastor, after receiving an invitation from his board to resign for failing to “put more bums in seats,” told me that with the current way most church structure operates, clergy are more like butlers than family members. They are there to work day and night for the betterment of the family, but when they themselves are tired, hurt, or losing hope, they learn they were never considered part of the family after all. They were hired help.
If you look around, it’s standard practise in many places to fire pastors when they are down. Perhaps there is more to loving each other than what we accept as “standard.”
There’s a reason why Jesus said to wait for this whoever-it-was to show up. The Holy Spirit would be their destiny, their comfort, their strength. He would teach them, reminding them of what Jesus told them. He would convict, he would transform, he would empower. Unlike Jesus in physical form, he could be everywhere and with everyone at once.
Without an external source of power, a self-propelled bicycle cannot go the distance. Without God’s grace to be who he empowers us to be, we all eventually become like the exhausted, disappointed, disillusioned character(s) in The Boxer.
In the Liturgical calendar, we are in the time between the Ascension (when Jesus was taken up in a cloud to sit the right hand of God) and Pentecost (when the Holy Spirit came in power). Many of us are sensing a shift in the spiritual atmosphere. Something is different. God is doing something, but what? I don’t know.
What I do know is that when we attempt to save the world through our own efforts we are in danger of breaking down. We need the Holy Spirit to lead, teach, convict, comfort, and empower. Waiting on the Lord requires steadfast trust as we lean in to hear the One whose promises never fail.
I am angered by lies and injustice and suffering all around. I am even more angered by my weaknesses. I want to do something – anything – to help. But I’m tired and in pain and struggling to understand truth in a barrage of “misinformation.” When I pray for wisdom, I hear, “Wait.”
Hearing God’s voice is more about deepening relationship than completed tasks. Some people I admire for their intimate walk with God tell me that the voice that was once so clear actually becomes softer over time. Sometimes it feels like the sound of silence. When they lean in, waiting for specific direction, all they hear is “Closer.”
Last year the mountain ash tree outside my window bore no fruit. This year the branches bend low under the weight of thousands of berries. In the winter, when nothing grows here in the Canadian Rockies, birds will feast on them. Abundant provision now for sustenance later.
My prayer for you today:
Now may God, the inspiration and fountain of hope,
I sat down this week to write a simple blog entry meant to comfort and encourage others. Twelve hours later I had pages of notes, a list of bigger questions and the certainty I didn’t know what I was talking about. In my spirit, yes, but deep down in my soul where mind, will, and emotions are squabbling with each other? Not really. I understand what the psalmist meant when he wrote “Unite my heart to fear your name.”
I’m the one who has needed comfort and encouragement lately. If I stop to look at the measurable, quantifiable, reproducible, evidence-based facts as recorded by physical senses I begin to panic. It wouldn’t take much of a straw to bring me to child-like tears today.
But as usual, if I stop catastrophizing long enough to listen and acknowledge the greater reality of Spirit and Truth, I know the Holy Spirit is whispering comfort in my ear.
He sends songs in the night.
For two nights this week two lines from different songs have been playing on repeat in my dreams. The first line is from an old 70’s song, Feel the Love, by Lovesong:
Feel the love the Son of God can bring/ By believing… by receiving Him./ Feel the love.
The second is from It’s Going to Be All Right by Sara Groves:
I have not come here to offer you clichés.
He sends friends who have walked this road before.
Wonderful friends share their failures and victories and questions with me. Some have overcome cancer more than once. Some have been through natural disasters and reconstruction. Some have known the pain of feeling like they don’t fit in anywhere. Some have known the pain of betrayal or promises yet unfulfilled. All have known the sorrow of disappointment with oneself. Some are still in the middle of giant unsettled messes right now, and yet they take time to share the comfort they have known.
He sends family and neighbours.
Some traveled miles on horrid winter roads to bring cheer and a vegetable juicer. Some phone late at night when they know I will still be up to check on me or invite me for coffee. Some set the little grandkids up on the cell phone so I can share in their excitement over new dolls and video games and silly faces. The older grandkids text to talk about music and school projects and hopes and dreams or to share photos. My adopted family help by offering coolers when the fridge quits working, jugs of water when the pipes freeze, tools when the digital piano goes silent, patient expertise when the computer freezes, wood for the fireplace, shovels when the car gets stuck and the sidewalks disappear in the snow, and muscles and engineering skills when the retaining wall crashes on the driveway.
He sends podcasts and random Facebook posts.
Oh, how I appreciate the banquet of good teaching and music shared by people who make an effort to reach out beyond the four walls of their gatherings or dining rooms or vans. I love encouraging posts by sincere blogging and Facebook and Twitter friends. I love reading their insights, visions, and dreams — and even jokes. Especially the jokes.
Most of all he sends a more sure word recorded in the Bible.
I read these words given through Paul who was honest about the hardships of his journey. It was not an easy road for him.
All praises belong to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he is the Father of tender mercy and the God of endless comfort.
He always comes alongside us to comfort us in every suffering so that we can come alongside those who are in any painful trial. We can bring them this same comfort that God has poured out upon us.
And just as we experience the abundance of Christ’s own sufferings, even more of God’s comfort will cascade upon us through our union with Christ.
If troubles weigh us down, that just means that we will receive even more comfort to pass on to you for your deliverance! For the comfort pouring into us empowers us to bring comfort to you. And with this comfort upholding you, you can endure victoriously the same suffering that we experience.
Now our hope for you is unshakable, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings you will also share in God’s comforting strength.
(2 Corinthians 1:3-7 The Passion Translation)
If I’m not posting a lot lately it’s because I’m resting and soaking up comfort I need right now.