Wednesday, May 28

When the Spirit Shows Up

When I breathed the prayers last August, heart breaking from the betrayal -- "Holy Spirit, move your people toward me," -- I envisioned that Spirit, He, coming swiftly, stretching his ear out long, or just turning around to face me.  I also envisioned that he was already there beneath the surface where he'd just pop his head up over the ripples made when the boat sank in my soul.  If he wasn't already with me, then he could redress swiftly, like a Peregrin Falcon.  However, I'd lived for years in faith so I knew that if anyone had really wandered it was veritably me.

I, thus, imagined that he was already with his people.  That he was in the control room and I could cut to the chase by talking to him instead of the person.  He'd provoke them to do the right thing and, daily, as I prayed that prayer, they did. They sent cards, stuffed money in the mailbox, called, asked us our names, and said yes.  They showed up because the Spirit was doing his job and they were doing theirs.  That's how healing happens to us all.

It was the most affirming time I can remember.  It was the time when the Spirit seemed to move to the head of the Trinitarian conference table.  The very first time when I vowed not to keep him silent, kicking my Baptist roots aside to hear his voice and witness his power.  What I've seen of him this year gives me such joy and gratitude.  It makes me want to throw him a party. Turns out, Pentecost is already on the calendar.

In all kinds of places the Holy Spirit is depicted with wings. In Scripture, yes, but poetry and literature too as well as our own delimited minds which make things up until we're unsure if they were ever true.  Monstrous wings, like a dragon; gilded and bright; golden expanses fanning the innards of my soul.  I considered this metaphor yesterday morning, out on the deck, beginning summer's liturgy on a fresh journal page.

And then I saw gray wings above me, alighting on the phone pole. And I heard a cooing that isn't a normal part of our dawn chorus.  For years I've sat on the deck in the early summer mornings watching nature for signs of God and I've seen him in so many ways. But on this morning he showed up as pure an image as my mind could grasp. He showed up as a morning dove.

I shooed him off. "I see you.  Don't sit around here. Go move your people."

You never know how the Spirit will come to you... mighty wind, tongue of fire, feathery wings. But I'm convinced that we ignore him much of the time and wait for some other great sign, as if the transformed human heart wasn't evidence enough.  As if causing the dead to live again wasn't a wave of a brand new ship coming in.

There is another sure sign of his presence though. And this one cut me to the quick.

In John 20:21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you."  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld."

The newly risen Jesus sees his disciples for the first time and the first thing he says is "Peace."  Isn't that the symbol we attribute to a dove?  And then he breathes on them and gives them the Holy Spirit, right out of the depths of himself.

When I read this scripture my White Pine tree pollinated right in front of me, blowing a cloud of yellow dust around the yard like I had just waved a magic wand and disappeared beneath it. It was a silent release of all the tree's hopes, a breath of new life.  "Receive the Holy Spirit" happens just like that, in the quiet back yard of a wandering pilgrim mother trying to find the way forward.

Nature is amazing me this week.

I read it again and I didn't have to wonder long, "Who were they to forgive?"  The answer is evident; the people they were hiding in fear from, the ones who had killed their Master Rabbi.  The people they were now sent to.  How hard that had to be -- to move past the crime in order to begin the craft.

I won't be effective if I believe people are defective.  If I believe there is no hope for them, no value, no worth.  If I believe their incompetence is the greatest thing about them and if I can't forgive them for their violent acts that turn my world upside down.

Forgive their maligned allegiances.  Forgive their abandonment.  Forgive their pride and arrogance.  Forgive them for condoning the evil, supporting it, calling for it.  Forgive them for building faulty bonds, for calling something virtuous when it's really cowardly. For their silence, for their absence -- forgive them.  We can't do it on our own, it's the work of the Spirit of God, breathed into us, knowing that the way forward leads to crosses of our own.  I thought I already had, but did it again.  I forgave them.

The Holy Spirit gives us new breath in our stale lungs.  And with that breath we speak new words, the first being the hardest of all, "I forgive you."

And if you can do that, then you know that the Spirit is probably alighted on your telephone pole, cooing at you to go move your people.

Friday, May 16

Summer Reading: Strong Women

I come from a line of them.  Women who change the world through activism and love. Women who persevere through widowhood and cancer and displacement.  Women who welcome others by opening their lives.  And women who receive their strength from the Lord.  Somehow I find my place; a little bit teacher, a little bit activist, a little bit minister and a little bit creative spirit.  In the second half of life, I want to lean more and more in, as if I'm sitting across from all of them, steaming chai in their favorite cups, straining to hear their own dreams and voices and sorrows.  I come from strong women. This summer is a tribute to them.

My great grandmother, once the national child welfare consultant for the Salvation Army, is quoted in the first one -- I never knew.  The second one was given to me by my aunt after she was deemed cancer free.  The third is an inscribed 1982 Christmas gift from my grandmother -- her favorite stories. The fourth is a woman whom I'm going to go hear tonight so she can sign my copy.

Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race Before Roe v. Wade by Rickie Solinger and Elaine Tyler May 

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott 

Thursday, May 15

When They Get Sick in the Worst Way

What I noticed while waiting for the call:
  • The blossoms on the Crabapple, past bloom, drift to the grass.  Countless petals of white, spent effette, sprinkling an interment of time. Just last week it was full to bursting.  Now fall so the fruit can swell.
  • The spots on the rug, half-empty bottles need combining, the chain left in a knot on the dresser, the mending never done.  The dusty details passed over for someday, when there was time. Today I make it.
  • The silence.  Each one hoping, reasoning, shoving away the thought.  Wasn't I just writing him letters to urge him deeper into life?  Check the temp, the phone, the water, the phone again.  Keep the silence busy.
  • The sorrowful song in my head sings: I know you have a little life in you yet. I know you have a lot of strength left.  Repeat and repeat. 
He's sleeping and wakes when I touch his neck. A long groan. A few weary steps. Back down again. Wretched week; upset piled upon upset. Sleep more, son.  There's nothing here to miss.

We are on the edge. Waiting for the grim.

The symptoms could be.  The signs point.  There were notes and tests in that little room the other night, where the waiting began.  Weary and cold, he laid under the blanket fresh from the warmer, the one with the scent that reminded me of his birth.  And together we waited to hear.

Only that little room knows that we pressed into the silence with settled concern.  That we blithely compared the spotted ceiling tiles to the rash coursing across his chest, his arms, his legs.  No one else laughed with us at the magazine's swimsuits and redundant chai tea products. Or saw that I lingered on the page that said When to Let Go and Move On.  No one was a witness to the banter we maintained even after the doctor left in his first stuffed silence. But no one saw the nurture, when I laid my denim jacket over his shivering frame until a blanket could come.  When I tried to decipher his groans; was it the neck, the stomach, the dread?  And no one was with us when we both released the heavy breath when the doctor left us finally with his bleak suspicion hanging wide-open and heavy in the air.

I asked my boy, "Is this the moment life changes?"  Wasn't yesterday regular quotidian, when we were once all doing homework, slicing peppers, thinking about a birthday?  And then in this one single evening page we wipe it clean and wait, pen at the ready, to write it in a different setting, a different tone.

When you wait for the call that says leukemia or not, you notice things.

The sweat on his head.  How much he looks like his dad.  How the fear dances in his eyes, liquid blue in this moment.  Which is all we really have.

The mistakes, the attitudes, the efforts and cries and persistence.  Silent phone in your pocket, you notice the tension melt away.  What's past is past and what we have can be made new. You notice the messy rug, but you don't speak it.  The verboten wrappers but you don't scold.  He's resting now, doing the right thing. He knows the exact right thing in this moment.  Maybe this is when to let go and move on.

It's been forever since he left his door wide like this, since he asked my advice, since I responded with this level of care, sat with him, touched his skin.  What the dim brings to light humbles the heart.  The moment is honor and fear, tribute and terror.  We walk it together.

The call comes and says just what I knew, deep within.  It's likely not.  It's looking good.  We'll keep checking.  It's not over.

But it's over enough.  We've begun something new.  The fruit is coming.


Two weeks ago this was our wonder.  When grim news comes at you like a gale, you stand up to it convinced it won't take you down.  Wasn't this the boy I just spent Lent fixing my heart to?  Wasn't this supposed to be the fruitful time?  It can't come crashing down.  Not now.

God's mercy came through with a different diagnosis. One that he's healed from, that was endurable.  It's all over and done.  All the strength is back.  The vigor is ours again.  What we've won is another chance to see each other in a new way.  We've won more days to learn to see each other as human, not as obstacle.  We win because we have each other.  Still.