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.

Forgetting Pentecost

This Sunday is Pentecost and I forgot. This troubles me in a big way. I realize for many the word has little if any meaning. But for me as a believer and as a pastor in a Christian church this is a big deal.

Pentecost is that wild, bizarre day when everything and everyone became un-hinged. A day we are told in Acts 2 when that mystery we call the Holy Spirit came upon the first followers of Jesus and they were transformed. It was as if everything became clear, all confusion fell away and each person knew that they were loved and known by God and each person knew they loved everyone and everything. Scripture says it was as if they were ‘on fire’ with this new awareness. It was a time of profound enlightenment. Everything was new. Everything was different.

And I forgot Pentecost.

pentecost-edfriedlander

It was only when Julie, my pastoral colleague leaving for vacation wished me a ‘good Pentecost’, that I realized I’d forgotten. My sermon, the music chosen, the prayers offered would have had no reference to this extraordinary day when the fledgling, fragile church of Jesus Christ was born.

My excuse for forgetting are many: I’d been away on vacation and attending meetings as a college trustee; my Mom’s health needed attending; the car needed to be repaired; families at church were in need; church meetings needed to be planned for etc.

But what troubles me is that Pentecost, when we remember that the Spirit moves in wondrous ways, had (at least for the moment) become secondary both for me and I suspect for some in the church I serve and the church universal.

What troubles me is that I know that the only path to renewal and spiritual transformation for me, the church I serve and the church universal is through openness to that great mystery we call Spirit.

What gives me hope however, is knowing that the Spirit has a habit of breaking into our carefully constructed lives and making all things new. We can’t constrain or contain the life-giving force we call the Holy Spirit.

The Good News is that Spirit comes even when we forget.

A Common Language

sari+beach+panoMy local park on the North Shore of Massachusetts is beautiful. It features a rose garden, a promenade overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and a vast stretch of lawn. On any given weekend that park brings together a rich variety of people.

This past weekend a Hindu community held a cookout. You couldn’t miss the smell of curry or the women standing up to their knees in the ocean with their beautiful silk saris moving in the breeze. Several children played Cricket on the lawn.

I was completely mystified by the rules of the game. I asked a parent watching to explain the rules to me. As we talked I learned that they were from a Hindu Temple that meets in a nearby town. He said the park reminds him of his childhood in Bangalore, India. We introduced ourselves, his name is Amar.

Such diversity is a gift in Beverly, a city I recently move to. It reminds me that the greater Boston area has long been a magnate for immigrants from all corners of the globe. My own ancestors came from England in the late nineteenth century to work in textile mills.

The next day was Sunday, and in my Christian tradition was Pentecost. We read from the Bible these words from Acts 2:

‘When the day of Pentecost came, they (Jesus’ followers) were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.’

Imagine, being able to speak the same language. Being able to understand each other on a deep level. The preacher for the day said:

On Pentecost they spoke a common language, it was the language of love.”

In our pluralistic society, I give thanks for a local park that serves as common ground for different types of people to gather. Apart from difference of language, religion, styles of dress or games we play, we find that we have much in common.

Could it be that as I watched a new game called Cricket and made acquaintance with Amar that I was experiencing a Pentecost moment? Could it be that we were finding common ground upon which we both could stand?

I believe we are healthiest as a nation (and as people of Faith), when we both honor our differences and celebrate that which we hold in common. Of course, we have to make the effort to get to know each other. For Amar and me, our local park became common ground, dare I say, a ‘sacred place’ where we both were at home.