Last Sunday, I had the pleasure (or something…) of speaking in church. Sunday was Pentecost—the seventh Sunday following Easter—which serves to mark the Holy Spirit’s descent onto the disciples, and ultimately, all of God’s people. Being a better writer than public speaker, I chose to write out my thoughts and read them as close to verbatim as my highly-anxious-self could muster in that moment.
And, I like what I wrote. Not that it is particularly good writing—it isn’t—but, what it IS, however, is honest, and thoughtful, and the process of writing it brought me back into myself and to the ground. It helped me settle, even if just for a moment. And I was reminded that these days of uncertainty aren’t simultaneously days of abandonment. What a sweet, sweet lesson to recall.
And now, without further ado:
As some of you know, this past year has been one of significant transition for me. I made the move from working at Cascades Camp to working as a mental health therapist with children and teens. This time last year, I was entering into my 15th and final summer of ministry at Cascades. And at the end of that summer – this past September – I moved precisely 69.1 miles north, to an entirely different world: Capitol Hill.
And while I’m thankful for many things about this transition, such as a pretty great roommate, supportive and encouraging and fun friends, living in an area that allows me to experience the beauty of many different cultures, etc. And yet, even with all of this goodness, it has not been the magical, perfect, everything-I-ever-wanted type of move. It’s been really really hard.
The kind of hard that has you questioning purpose. Like who am I apart from this identity I’ve had for so long? What is my vocation and calling? And am I going to be any good at this new thing that I spent FOUR years (and far too many dollars) studying? These are the big-life questions that have contributed to moments of fear and have, at times, gotten in the way of seeing a lot of goodness that is here with me.
When Paul approached me about sharing thoughts for this morning, I felt pretty confident in my response – and gave him a kind, but firm, ‘maybe next time’ and felt assured that I dodged that bullet. I said no because, in my memory, Pentecost is that one time where the Spirit comes down and rests on humanity, like a dove; a symbol of peace, descending on the extra-holy.
This season hasn’t been one of peace for me – and it certainly hasn’t been a time where I felt extra holy. Quite the opposite on both accounts. It’s been a season filled with a lot of doubt and frustration and anger and grief. And in the reality of these feelings, I couldn’t connect with the quote – descended like a dove – gift of the Spirit. And speaking this morning would mean that I’d have to come face to face with those feelings and that anger. Thanks, Paul.
But I, for some unknown reason, texted Paul and said, just kidding. Count me in. I think I was overly caffeinated, and feeling particularly chipper and philosophical that day, and thought to myself, I’ve always loved an underdog! And in the trinity, I sometimes feel like the Holy Spirit gets the least attention. So my empathetic self took over, and I thought I better speak up on the Spirit’s behalf. Welcome to how my brain reasons.
To be fair, I’m glad that I had this momentary lapse in judgment and committed to share with you all, because, after a closer reading of the Scriptures, I was reminded that it was Jesus who received the Spirit ‘descending like a dove’ – way back in the Gospels. On the contrary, humanities’ gifting of the Spirit was a bit different. Jesus got the dove; we, according to Acts 2, got violent wind, tongues of fire, and general bewilderment and confusion. Awesome. That’s our Pentecost experience. And THAT feels true to my current story.
Oddly enough, somehow this brings me comfort. I am reminded that from the beginning, the Spirit is with us in chaos. I imagine there was a fair amount of fear in seeing those tongues of fire and feeling the violent wind – but the Spirit was there, so things were different and new and somehow safer. Thankfully, I’m not experiencing visions of fire or anything like that, but I am beginning to remember that the Spirit is present in my storms. This knowledge doesn’t stop the chaos or sadness or remove the hard moments, but it reminds me of the present-with character of the Spirit. From the beginning, when the Spirit made that wild entrance, we have not been alone.
I don’t think this is new information for any of you. It isn’t new to me to know that God’s Spirit is constantly at my side, championing my every move. BUT something about knowing the nature of how the Spirit came to us – in that grand and unsettling entrance – gives me a bit more permission to be messy in my faith. Being faithful to our sorrows and disappointment – acknowledging that things are hard and not trying to hide that from ourselves or those that care for us, being present with our pain, all of this is what brings further authenticity to the moments of joy, blessings, abundance, and delight.
I don’t love the moments of fear or feeling the waves of emotion that come with loss, but they are part of the fullness of faith. And this week, I’ve been reminded that I don’t have to be extra-holy, happy all the time, peaceful like that dove experience Jesus had. I get to be messy AND I get to be faithful. I can feel all the blessings AND the losses that this year held. THAT is the gift that the Spirit has given me today on Pentecost Sunday – and for this, I am grateful.