Radical Availability

For some people believing in God doesn’t work.  One friend, a scientist, requires proof that can be objectively quantified and measured.  Another friend attended a Christian seminary.  For a few years he served as a chaplain on a college campus.  But it didn’t fit for him.  He wasn’t a theist.  The concept of a God that is involved and engages our human condition doesn’t fit for everyone.

But that’s not me.

Since I was a boy I have been graced with a deep-seated belief that God is real.  My belief can’t be measured or quantified.  It is based not so much on doctrinal teachings but an experience of that which my tradition calls Spirit.  While my understanding of God continues to evolve, my awareness of a sacred presence remains with me.

In Judaism (Genesis 1: 1,2) the Spirit of God is reflected in the word ruach which speaks of the breath of the Creator bringing the cosmos into being.  In the Gospels the word for Spirit is pneuma which like ruach reflects the essence of the Divine being breathed into creation, including you and me.   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruach_(Kabbalah) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pneuma

Why does the Spirit resonate for some of us and not for others?

What I have is my experience and the stories that others share with me.  Experiences that are sometimes subtle and other times ecstatic.  Witnessing to the movement of the Creator’s breath being breathed into ordinary lives.

Theologian Gerrit Scott Brown offers that receiving the gift of  Spirit requires an openness. What he calls ‘radical availability’:

Heeding God’s call can mean leaving home and all that is familiar.  It can demand our accumulated wealth and security or dare us to place our blessings, even our lives, at risk. It can also mean simply living where we are but with an entirely new set of priorities. In every case, our particular vocation in God’s service arises from our response to the basic call to radical availability.

This Sunday in my tradition is Pentecost.  That day when the Holy Spirit entered into a dispirited, fearful group of Jesus’ followers.  The Spirit filled and transformed them.  Transformed from fear to courage, from despair to hope.  (Acts 2: 1 – 13)

The Spirit filled and inspired these ordinary men and women to leave the safety of what they knew, for the promise of being both blessed and a blessing.

For me the Spirit is real.  As familiar as the air I breathe and the sun against my face.

I can’t objectively prove, measure or quantify this ethereal gift called Spirit. Nor do I feel the need to.  All I can do is share my story and say ‘thank you’ for this gift.

Holy Week: A Thin Place

Holy Week in the Christian tradition invites us to suspend our rational sense of what is and isn’t possible.  Like the Disciples witnessing Jesus’ crucifixion, we are asked to believe that death will not have the final word.  To believe that the terrible might of the Roman Empire has not won.Cross in Nicaragua

With Peter, John, Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, we are asked to consider a new narrative that Jesus has overcome the grave.   That the life-force in Jesus can not be contained.   Theologian Marcus Borg writes:  “Something happened that first Easter, that sent a group of fearful disciples, out into the street with the news that Christ was not dead, but alive.  Something happened on that first Easter that transcended their fear and despair.”

This ‘something’ is that of God which cannot be measured, quantified or contained.  It refers to a mystical, subjective experience which is real to the one affected.   For those without such an experience, it can be hard to believe.

The author Barbara Ehrenreich, is a well-known atheist.  In her new book , Living With a Wild God, she writes of a mystical experience when she was 17:

“This experience shook my safely rationalist worldview and left me with a lifelong puzzle.  In 1959 I stepped out alone, walked into the streets of Lone Pine, California and saw the world – the mountains, the sky, the low scattered buildings – suddenly flame into life.  It was a furious encounter with a living substance that was coming at me through all things at once, too vast and violent to hold on to, too heart breakingly beautiful to let go of.”

For years Ehrenreich tried to rationalize her experience away.  She doesn’t believe in God or gods.  Yet all these years later, she can’t  let go of wondering what it meant and the source from which this vision came.

In Celtic theology, the Celts (both pre and post Christian), believe that there is a thin place, a permeable membrane which separates our conscious world from that of the super-natural, the spiritual, the mystical.   That in the ‘thin place’ we are able to catch a glimpse of that source, that ‘something’ which serves as the essence, the life- force for all that is.

During that first Holy Week, something happened.  Something happened on that crucifixion cross.  Something happened when the women went to anoint Jesus’ body for burial.  Something happened when Peter and John peered into the empty tomb.  Something happened when Mary Magdalene heard her name spoken.

2000 years later that same life-force continues to confound us.  To challenge our carefully structured sense of what is and isn’t possible.  We are invited to consider the  possibility that something extraordinary happened on that first Easter, in those moments between darkness and dawn.

Could it be that there is something more going on than we can easily contain and measure?