Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"Thirsty Camels" - Pentecost, 2013

Pentecost, 2013

The other day I was at a restaurant and there were two young people at the table next to me; they were holding hands and leaning across the table toward one another, so that their foreheads almost met; their eyes were locked on one another as if no one else on the planet existed; they would nod in agreement at every observation the other made; and their faces were beaming.  They were drinking in one another’s words like thirsty camels at the end of a march across the desert -- they had what I can only describe as an eagerness of understanding; this kind of Pentecost joy on their faces, as they were connecting with each other.  

You could sense that their love was fresh and there seemed to me to be a measure of relief about them, as if they had waited a long time for one another; finally that loneliness - that long aching loneliness - was over.  

You could almost read it in their faces: here is someone who understands me; finally, someone who is actually interested in me – just as much as I am interested in her.  

It’s a beautiful thing to see, this eagerness of understanding.

It’s no wonder that when we try to talk about how God appearred on the earth, we describe him as “the Word.”   Before there ever was any Bible, we say; before there was even words, or writing, or humans, we say there was the Word; as John’s Gospel says, “In the beginning was the Word,”
and by word he didn’t mean a book; he meant this sacred potential for understanding; this promise of comprehension.  It’s this thing that happens between souls, when they are leaning across a table touching foreheads; or leaning, maybe, across a universe; this Word with a capital “W”; this promise of perfect understanding and of being perfectly understood.  We long for understanding so deeply that when it comes time to talk about God living among us, we call him the Word.  He does what words do, except perfectly: He connects us to one another; and when that happens, we talk about God.

Lately I’ve been aware at how deeply we long for this Word; for this connection.  I’ve been noticing how often I find myself in a room with someone and we’re both leaning forward, foreheads almost touching, drinking in understanding.   Right now we have two beloved parishioners who have come to terms with the fact that they are dying.  You walk into the room of someone who has reached this understanding; you sit beside them and they eagerly take your hand, and your eyes lock, and it’s like entering a cave filled with treasure, overflowing with gold coins and pearls and jewels: they want you to have it.  Here is my life, they say; my precious life.  Here are all of my memories; all of my stories; my loves, my children; my hopes, my regrets, my achievements – mostly just my stories.  Take it, they say; take this treasure.  Understand it, put it in your pocket and share it with others.  

In their eyes there is in their eyes a universe of meaning that they are trying to convey.  

Whenever I visit someone in the hospital, or the nursing home, or a homeless person, or someone in prison, there is this longing for connection.  This level openness that you don’t see so much in everyday life; and people are saying things they maybe never would say if they weren’t so opened up by their circumstances; so aware of the desire to be understood, and to understand.  

Which is why I think Jesus said, in Matthew 25, if you are looking for him, go visit someone in prison; go to the poor and listen to what they have to say; go to the hospital and hold someone’s hand.  That’s where you’ll find him: the living Word.  

In the language of the church, this is what we call pastoral care.  And it’s not just something priests do.  This is something we are all called to do.  We have trained pastoral care visitors, and we would like to train more people for this ministry of presence.  And whether we are trained for it or not, whether we represent the church in this ministry or just ourselves, we are all called into that level of relationship.  As our loved ones fall into trouble, and we run to the hospital bed to be by their side, and see them reach out their hand from the hospital bed, asking for connection – we take it..  

And when we are there, foreheads tilting forward, prayers and words of love being spoken, we know that we didn’t decide to be there; we were led there – by the Spirit of that Word, we were led to that bedside.  We’re like two magnets, who once they are within a certain range of one another, an invisible force draws them together.  We call this the work of the Holy Spirit.

We do that enough times and then we begin to see every relationship in those terms: we begin to trust that Spirit more and more; we let the Spirit draw us into deeper connection with everyone in our lives – our spouse or partner, our neighbor, our children.  Suddenly life seems too short to push those relationships aside; suddenly the Spirit is drawing us into more truth telling, more intimacy, more revelation of God’s Word.

And that’s when we begin to live a Spirit-filled life.  We begin to have the conversations that some people only have on their death beds.  We decide not to wait for disease to open us up to one another – we choose to live our lives on a more authentic level.  

And that’s when the miracles start to happen – because then the Spirit takes over; the Spirit draws people of the Spirit together; the Spirit brings us into new relationships and new connections that are life-giving to us.

And that is how we find ourselves here.  

We didn’t decide to come to church; we might have thought at the time that we were making the decision but in reality we were drawn together by the Spirit.  And as we continue to open ourselves to this Spirit and this Word, we find the Spirit drawing us together in new ways
and a new kind of community begins to emerge;
a community of care;
a community of connection;
a community of mutual vulnerability and trust
and deep love;
a love that has its Source not in ourselves, but in the Spirit that flows among us; that deep well; that living water.

We all drink from that well like thirsty camels.

This is the water that Jesus was talking about in John’s gospel, as he encountered that Samaritan woman – that person so different from him – such a gulf between them, of culture, language, religion, gender, politics – and yet there they were, leaning toward one another, led by the Spirit:

"...Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life."

And that’s how this crazy religion was born, on this day of Pentecost so many centuries ago, when all of a sudden, just as Jesus predicted,  a disparate group of people, representing all the different nations and cultures and languages of the known world, leaned in together, made themselves vulnerable to the presence of the Holy Spirit; breathed in the Word of God, and became what we call Christians.

And in that moment, everything that separated us was overcome.  The curse from the Tower of Babel was lifted; finally our universal language was found again; finally our great long loneliness was lifted; and we became like those young lovers I saw at the restaurant; fools in love with God and one another; drinking in that universal language of love.

Pray that we will continue to let the Spirit lead us into ever deeper relationships; pray that we will continue to listen to God’s Word, spoken at the depth of our hearts; pray that we continue to seek to understand, as we are understood, with open hearts and minds.


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