Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Awaiting Pentecost

Monday, April 6, 2009

It was the first Tuesday home after God swept me off to Israel. I sat in chapel, the rows of simple wooden pews spread out before me like lined paper, pristine and awaiting the pen, the glow from the stained-glass windows bathing them in rosy hues. Service had not yet started - only a few people dotted the seats here and there. It was a perfectly insignificant and mundane morning.

Yet...

There was something in the air, an alacrity that I could not connect with any physical source or emotional reason. The speaker was from Puerto Rico. He seemed perfectly ... normal. Dark hair, olive skin, nondescript height - he would be preaching in Spanish and Dr. Wesley was to interpret. There was nothing about the arrangement or the message title or the people gathered that seemed to warrant an almost tangible presence in the air. There was no particular sense of expectation, no emotional charge. It didn't seem like a particularly needy bunch.

And yet...

Something was different. Something was happening.

God was already speaking.

When the preacher began to address the group, he went immediately to the story of Exodus - not surprisingly, to the very passage of scripture I was reading in my devotional time...

"I have certainly seen the oppression of my people ... I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them ... and lead them ... into their own [land of promise]"

And while the preacher was speaking, the translator began his task of translating, and his voice joined the other in a kind of syncopated song, a call-and-response that echoed through the lofty ceilings and out into the foyer.

And then another voice joined the first two, above and slightly to the left.

"This is my heart revealed for my people," it said. I looked up and a presence in the room seemed to hover above the stage, completely invisible and yet very nearly distinct enough to be an angel with a trumpet and a crown of glory on its head. And it seemed to go on, but it spoke with desire, longing, love and yearning instead of words. I smiled and looked back to the preacher. Did this man know how much God longed to speak the words He had given him?

And even while the three of them spoke together in perfect unison, another voice began to speak, and another, until there was a gathering on and over the stage. One spoke directly to me as if it knew me. It reminded me of my own story, of my Jordan crossing, of my deliverance. Still another began to speak the names of people, some of them I knew, others I did not know but they seemed familiar to me when he said them. As he said each it was as if their stories began to unfold before my eyes, like scenes in a play. Yet another voice began to speak of wonderful things, prophecies and the fulfillment of prophecies.

I need to write this down! I thought. But when I looked down at the empty pew beside me, I had no pencil or pen, nothing to write with or on. I looked back up to the stage and it was as if one of the voices said, "This is mine to speak, not yours." I settled back to listen, then, content that what God would desire to make known, He would make known.

The sermon continued, a medley of what seemed nearly 15 voices, all telling different stories, with one master-story-teller seeming to tie them all together so that one could listen to them all at once and understand perfectly, seeing connections and patterns like seeing a tapestry take shape before one's very eyes. Even so, my mind began to boggle at some point. The wonder of each new phrase and meaning seemed to usurp the last so that it was difficult to hold it all in my awareness. It felt like holding on to sand - it was full and warm and overflowing and the more I tried to hold onto it the more it slipped through my fingers and poured into time. Some, however, stayed with me, like the desire of that first voice, reminiscent of Jesus' cry as he looked out over Jerusalem:

"...how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings..." Matt 23:36-38

"It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Mark 2:16-18

And then all the voices came together in one final chorus:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

The hair was standing up on the back of my neck. Chills moved up and down my spine. But I felt surprisingly peaceful and content, yet motivated. I wanted to walk from that place and proclaim the good news.

Because God is here.

I also left that place with a very distinct impression. I was put in mind of Daniel as he was taken into the king's palace and prepared for service. He and his friends readied themselves with a very specific kind of diet of vegetables. Strangely enough, I felt the need to do the same.

Yesterday at church the pastor mentioned in an off-hand sort of way that God wanted to work the miraculous in our lives. He then went on to talk about all the prophets who had been sent before the coming of Christ. It reminded me of the voice of God's longing in chapel. It seemed almost as if God has been wanting to do something very specific for a long time now, something miraculous even if, like the coming of the Messiah, it isn't what we are expecting. He has been whispering it, calling people to participate in it with him, but where are the prophets? Where are those just crazy enough to believe Him and proclaim the year of His favor?

I found myself at the altar that morning and the woman who prayed for me claimed my voice for the kingdom of God. That night I found myself in prayer with a friend who claimed my body for the purposes of God. Interestingly enough, both of those very things had once been claimed by another. Those who know me know the story I like to tell about how I pretty much stopped talking as a kid - and didn't start again until I was about 25-years-old. (I like to tell the story to explain why I seem to have so much talking to make up for.) And those who know me also know the story of a suicide attempt that left me in a coma for 36 hours. Once upon a time, Death had claimed me. God has taken me back like the land that was returned to its rightful owners during the year of jubilee.

As a final note, I've mentioned changing my diet to largely vegetables, very apologetically, I might add, thinking people would find me odd. But it seems that every time I have mentioned it I have gotten fairly similar responses...

"I have been feeling the same way, thinking the same thing..."

Um. Excuse me? It's one thing to say to your friend, "I've been feeling like I should love my neighbor" and they respond, "me, too." It's quite another thing to say, "God's been telling me to eat vegetables," and have others say, "yeah, me too!" But three other people are going to eat vegetarian for a time, one more is considering it, and still another complete stranger has already started, she said, because God told her to do it while awaiting Pentecost.

I am almost afraid to speak lest my words take root and bloom in the very air around me and I have to come up with some way to explain the hanging garden to the disconcerted passerby. That is how fertile the time and how ripe the work of the Spirit.

Winds of pentecost flow
spread the perfume of your embrace
stir the tongues of flame to spark and grow
to feast upon your grace

Fire of pentecost rise
find the tender of our hearts
ignite the power of the Spirit
for freedom to impart

Tide of pentecost flood
the thirsty land cries out
bring with you the silt and sow
the seed that blooms in drought

Prepare, o child of God
your hunger He will sate
His promises are come
so for pentecost we wait

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