Monday, June 10, 2019
"A Hovering Silence"
(A Pentecost sermon at the conclusion of the annual gathering of the Anamchara Fellowship at the Passionist Fathers Retreat and Conference Center in Detroit.)
“Come Holy Ghost our souls inspire. Amen”
I have no way to say this but to tell you the truth. The Holy Spirit came to me when I was but a boy. I cannot even begin to describe the fullness of her beauty, but I was quite taken with her early on.
You see, it was in the bleak mid winter of my 8th year to heaven when my father died. It was Christmas, 1953. There had been a bitter divorce and hurtful words were spoken. The Christians in the family said that my dad couldn’t go to heaven becuase he didn’t go to church. I thought that was cruel and mean spirited. Thank God my grandmother wasn’t a “christian”...she was an Episcopalian.
She sent me to church hoping that might cheer me up. From the moment I entered that place, I knew I was in God’s House. High above the Altar there were the words: Holy, Holy, Holy. Stained glass windows sent tiny rainbows of refracted light to the corners of oak pews. The choir sang a peculiar music called Anglican Chant. There were words of poetic cadence. And a kindly man stood up and spoke of God’s love from the pulpit. Then we said; “Our Father who art in heaven.” I looked up into the clerestory hoping to see him. But he wasn’t there. No God; no dad. So I cried; “Abba, Father”, like Paul told us to do in today’s Epistle.
I took it all to my bed in the night season and poured out my heart to the Silence who dwelt with me there. I can tell you precisely where She was. She hovered over my heart, I’d say, about a foot or so above me. I spoke to the Silence. More than once tears drenched my pillow as I tried to explain to her what happened. But then when I listened there was nothing there but an Absolute Silence.
Then one day on the way home from church, I mindlessly plucked a solitary leaf off a straggly city hedge and buried my thumbnail into her girth. I looked at down at her green life blood buried there and realized she died for me. That’s when it happened; it was as if the Word of the Lord came to me. She was precise and articulate when she spoke; “Don’t you know there’s a special place in my heart for your dad?” I stopped dead in my tracks. I listened but there was nothing more. Then I gave her voice to all the world around me; “Don’t you know there’s a special place in my heart for your dad?” Imagine, The still small voice of God spoke to me in the sheer Silence.
I ran home as fast as I could. I burst through the front door and ran into the kitchen where my grandmother was peppering up something to eat;
“Ma is there a God?”
“Of course there is”
“Ma is there a heaven?”
A touch annoyed and a sideward glance; “Of course there is.”
“Ma, is my daddy there?”
I looked at her with pleading eyes. She hesitated, just a moment. The idea of spending an eternity with that Irishman must have been a ponderous thought for a Maine Yankee. But the question remained; “Is my daddy there?”
And that’s when she knelt down to me and held me close. She folded my head into the nape of her neck and it is as if I can still smell the scent of her hair; and that’s when she said; “Of course he is!”
Can you see how beautiful She is? The Holy Spirit entered her heart and God’s eternal now came to life in me in the beauty of holiness.“Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire, and lighten with celestial fire. Enable with perpetual light the dullness of our blinded sight.”.
My heart leapt for joy. And when I went to bed that night, the Silence became a Presence to me now. She had a Name. I called her God. We were told to call her him. But she/he/they have always been someone of glory and beauty to me. For me there was a feminine dimension to the Holy Spirit.
Then, come to find out, Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. All that confused me when it came to the use of godly pronouns.
Nevertheless, now in the night season I could preach to the Presence hovering there because the Gospel message was clear to me now. There is a special place in God’s heart for my dad and for the rest of my family and for all of you and for everyone all the world around.
Mind you, my family was a mess. There were mental health issues. My grandmother was agoraphobic. My uncle was gay. My mom had been through an abortion and three husbands. Working out the particulars of God’s Salvation Plan for my family took years and many controversies in our church....and we’re still working through it all.
Many’s the night I spent pouring out my heart to the Presence. I call him/her/them God. Jesus. Holy Spirit. They are a whole community of distinct persons to me. But it his Her beauty that first and foremost caught my eye and dwelt within my heart and soul.
So I became a priest and served congregations in Massachusetts, Ohio, West Virginia and South Carolina. Since retirement I’ve served more congregations than I did while I was working. And next Sunday I retire for the eighth time. And the Gospel I preach is still the same; “There is a special place in God’s heart for you.” And on Pentecost, that message was proclaimed to every race and nation in every language and tongue.
The Gospel proclaims the love of Jesus. Do you have any idea how beautiful you are? I mean really? You are a reflection of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I well know how wounded and broken your hearts are, like mine. But the healing power of Jesus has touched us and that’s all it takes. That plus a little kairos time and eternal life living in you and me. You are beautiful, becuase you reflect the image of God.
Today I take it upon myself to invoke the Holy Spirit. In Eastern Christianity they call her Sophia. Now that’s a pretty name; a beautiful name! The Hagia Sophia; the Holy Wisdom. Her dwelling place in Constantinople, now Istanbul, still stands as a sign that She was at the center of Eastern Christianity for a thousand years. Like my grandmother She is a storyteller of Shakespearean and Biblical proportion. She imparts Wisdom to us in the story she tells of God’s saving deeds in history. She imparts Wisdom to us in the stories we tell to one another.
Mind you, as beautiful as she is, The Holy Spirit is not to be trifled with. Remember, Jesus sent The Advocate to be with us forever. So, for instance, when I took up the cudgels for the homeless in West Virginia we built a shelter. There was controversy. The NIMBY syndrome kicked in. Somebody was so mad they called my wife and threatened to kill me. You have to know Cindy to fully appreciate how she said it: “Oh yeah; take a numbah, I want to kill him too sometimes.”
The Holy Spirit gave her those words. The threat was real; it was frightening. But God diffused the threat! For the rest of my life, I’ve taken up the cudgels for all sorts and conditions of folks. Just like you do.
Paul said that when we are in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, there is no slave or free, there is no male or female. Do I have to spell that out? When Paul says “Jew or Greek” he means all races and ethnicities. When he says; “slave or free”, he means everyone, no matter how rich or poor. And when he says “male or female” he means everyone else for that matter. Do I have to spell that out? LGBTQ-AEIOU...everyone in God’s magnificent kaleidoscope of human identity. If you get bullied about, I’ll be there to take up the cudgels on your behalf.
Come Holy Spirit come, She came to us on that first Pentecost with flames of fire above our heads. She gave us power to speak plainly in every language on earth of the mighty acts of God, and of Jesus’ power over sin and death. But when it comes to the language of the heart; there’s a language all the world hungers to hear. We all understand that. We can all speak that language. When I sit down across from you, I can look into your eyes and say; “There’s a special place in God’s heart for you too!”.
In the Name of God; the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.