We’re six weeks into the 2020 Coronavirus isolation process and my colleague-brain buddy-pastor and I have gotten very good at maintaining our work flow conversations and theological pop-offs via text or email. He’s usually the guy with the soft answer or the landing place so this email caught me off guard.
I trust the Holy Spirit is here and I suspect God is working in the midst of us all, but my suspicions are far from what a pentecostal/charismatic would recognize. So what’s up with that? … Am I too privileged and stuck in my own head and tradition to notice?
Without a clear answer, I posed a question back to him: “What evidence are you looking for?”
Before anyone comes at me with lists of Holy Spirit goodies from the epistles or stories from their aunt’s co-worker’s husband’s shamanic experience, trust me that my question for the Rev. Dr. wasn’t to force a concrete answer – nor was it entirely rhetorical. I’ve been asking myself that very same question as I deconstruct, rebuild, and redecorate my own interior castle of the soul. I have a sense that all of us are just blind folx touching the elephant on this one.
Here’s what I know for sure: God is always on the side of the oppressed, the poor, and the struck down. Always. And while I don’t think it’s in God’s nature to have a favorite kid, sometimes we force a decision. When we are silent in the face of radical injustice, when we normalize or justify marginalizing behavior, when we prop up systems that create inequality – we have to be reminded again about God’s giant heart for “the least of these.” So it’s no secret that the more comfortable I am, the more self-righteous and justified I feel, the more superior in my intellect and logic, the less likely I am to inhabit the space of vigilant looking for “God at work” that those in the margins tend to live in on the regular.
There are so many beautiful things that turn up when we start talking about the Holy Spirit and the experiences people have recorded throughout our human history. The very etymology of the word is viscerally moving. Pnuema in the Greek writings. Ruach in the Hebrew. Wind, breath. The life force that animates, creates, and inspires – like oxygen in the lungs and air in the nostrils.
So maybe it’s less about snake handlers, healings, and demons cast out. Those are amazing and I don’t pretend to understand, but we’re chasing the wind here. If we want to see and experience the Holy Spirit – the pnuema and ruach – we need to look for signs of life.
This week my news alerts and social media feeds were filled with an image frozen in time: a black man face down on the concrete, hands behind his back, while a white police officer pinned him down with a knee to his throat. All of the world watched George Floyd die. As the life was stolen from his body, he begged: I can’t breathe.
I think, for the 2 minutes and 53 seconds George Floyd lay unresponsive and without sign of life beneath an oppressor’s knee, the Holy Spirit lost her breath too.
And then agony and righteous outrage broke out on that Minneapolis street and around the country. Protestors, activists, and enflamed poets poured onto the concrete to call for justice. Desperately needed conversations started happening around dinner tables, over text, in the media, and wherever people could connect. The Kingdom of God – who was found for a moment lying cold and without breath on the street – showed signs of life.
If we want to see miracles of healing, people speaking in tongues to cross language barriers, great revivals of love, then we need to go where the winds of inspiration blow. It’s lazy faith and cheap hope to believe the Holy Spirit is only ecstasy and joy, people dancing in aisles and men with arms outstretched on mountain tops. There is power in the wind. It can overturn, disturb, unseat structures from their foundations. Phyllis Tickle was right: the Holy Spirit will not be ignored in this reformation, this great emergence. She is present in the breathless last words of George Floyd, in the final exhale of Ahmaud Arbery, the terrified gasp of Breonna Taylor. Our attention is commanded by systems that are shaking from an invisible force bearing down from the outside – a wind blowing while our sons and daughters speak truth to power, our elders dream with us, and those who have a vision for the future will lead us. This, my friends – my Church – is our Pentecost.
If you’d like to hear the conversation I had with Rev. Dr. Jeff Slater <said colleague-brain buddy-pastor> check out our podcast: https://anchor.fm/trinityumclincoln/episodes/APJA-Wheres-the-Holy-Spirit-eeo40c