Today, Sunday, June 9, 2019 is Pentecost, that great feast of the promised coming of the Holy Spirit.
“At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd,
but they were confused
because each one heard them speaking in his own language.“
Yesterday I read this at church, and as I stood at the ambo, I was filled with a Holy Spirit moment of my own. Having practiced the reading enough to memorize some of it, I was able to look up and out at the congregation before me, I had one of those Thomas Merton moments. If you are not familiar, one day he was standing on a street corner and saw through new eyes, in a Pentecost-like moment.
Everyone looked the same – yet so different to me at that moment. Not unlike what we read in the Acts of the Apostles, “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.” Yes, here we were, a church full of Catholics, a big church – literally and figuratively – gathered as one in Christ. At a time when I feel deeply upset and highly frustrated about the Church, I felt awash in a wave of love.
Somehow that love eluded me today as I read some things in the newspaper that were upsetting to me. In these fractious times, as we grow more splintered and split into ever smaller individual atoms, everyone is potentially turned against everyone else. Many people will tell you we have never lived in worse times, but I am not 100% certain of that. What we do live in is a time when we learn and know everything in an instant, it is more of an assault than a flow of information. I remember learning a statistic in the early 90’s, now long forgotten, that informed me that the volume of mail received in a day by an American at that time exceeded the volume of mail ever received by my grandparents. It was more stressful than helpful, as postal carriers literally bent down from the weight of endless catalogs and credit card offers, and we recipients drowned in paper and the choices and actions they demanded.
Today of course we are in the firing line of a lot less paper mail and an endless staccato of shots of information. Everything from what our third grade best friend ate posted about their breakfast on Facebook, to the numbing number of victims of yet another mass shooting. We encounter and possibly forward, retweet, or post things all day long. This politician is an idiot. This one is a thief. This one is a hero and the only one who can save us. All fill-in-the-blank-political-party-members are clueless, ignorant, hateful, or worse.
Yet today as I read a broad swath of links, all ones that unite some of us – or divide some of us – I felt called to stop and pause. As I took a deep breath, I realized something – what if we could all hear in one voice? I know, it does feel a little like I might be headed towards a vision of kumbayah some line of magical thinking, but hear me out, please. What if we could hear in some common way?
Right off the bat we might refuse to hear something – it does not matter what, it could be anything. Maybe you do not believe that gay marriage is legitimate or you belong to a church that does not allow it. Therefore, when you read this essay, you might find yourself cringing. Or you might find yourself moved by the power of love that draws people together.
What if you do not want to hear another word about civil rights, slavery, reparation, or that black lives matter. Then this piece might be worth pushing into. Do you find yourself irritated by this woman? Speaking of pushing into, her recent autobiography might be eye-opening – and mind opening, not to mention heart opening as well.
Immigration. Are you for or against? Do you want to “restore” some past America? Or forge ahead into new ways of being American? This is something I read this morning, and it blew my mind. The title is provocative in and of itself, “Why Should Immigrants ‘Respect our Borders’; We Never Respected Theirs.” As I read it I was laid flat by the weight of what was written, because of its painful truth. It made me think of a podcast I listened to the other day, about smuggling – human smuggling. Listening to the desperation that goes into such flights from one land into another pierced my heart. Who among us would not do the same? Of course, one of my very most favorite immigration stories is one that I first heard about on This American Life in 2015. How I hung onto every word of Abdi Nor Iftin’s story. The sound of his voice was like the sound of a far away friend in a dark and desperate vice ever tightening around him. Abdi did make it here, and wrote a beautiful book about his life, Call Me American. It was so exciting to actually meet Abdi last year, a moment I will never forget – I choke up at its memory.
Another of today’s reads was this one, on what may be our most divisive national issues. Now the author is not Catholic and therefore not subject to Catholic teaching. While her one point is in line with teaching, she goes on to recommend ways to reduce or end abortion that are also not in line with teaching. The overall topic of women and their bodies also comes up in this article from my local paper. Everyone has something to say about women’s bodies, but what do we have to say about men’s bodies?
Reading that last article, I was reminded of something else I read about women’s bodies. This topic is so uncomfortably close to my heart; I could probably write volumes about body hatred, but that’s not where I am headed today. Reminded that any time I have ever lost weight and kept it off for awhile, I remembered that it happened when I ate in moderation, never completely eliminating a food group. Sometimes you must eliminate for health reasons, such as celiac, but I’m sticking to moderation – at least in thought. (It is not really where I am right now… *sigh*)
OK, so in this now-too-long piece, we have considered how we might – and notice I said “might” just perhaps hear in the voice of another. Sure, I recoil at the idea of listening to this person or this other person. If you are paying attention you might realize that I included a link to this person above. She is hardly a liberal. Some of my friends love this person’s voice, but me – no. And she is considered liberal. These descriptions are ridiculous. Anyway, I have not necessarily endorsed anything I have posted, just the idea that you should venture far and wide in reading and listening, sticking as close to fact based sites as you can.
Did I leave anyone out? Of course I did. Here is an area where the Church itself needs to reconsider how we hear many languages in one tongue. We are told in the Acts of the Apostles, that the disciples were a “community of believers” that “was of one heart and mind…” Then of course the rest of the sentence will send many into an apoplectic fit, as it continues, “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” What are they – socialists? Keep reading, it will mess with your head, I promise you!
Ahhh, the church. Recent revelations have included this one, which set me into a fit of rage. Followed by this anger-inducer which showed sums far greater than I imagined. Now I worship in a great parish, I work at a great parish, so I feel sometimes as if I am in a bubble. A good bubble, but a bubble. What is happening? And we are all connected, so what does this mean? Anyway, the Church is drowning in issues right now and it is very hard to know what to do about any of it, as leaving is not an option for me. That is by choice, not circumstance. (I did stop going to church for two months last year, something my pastor and my boss were well aware of. I was not judged for it, although always encouraged to return.)
Now past any reasonable word count, I have to return to the topic of Pentecost and of many hearing in one voice. One voice. It is the voice of God, made manifest in the person of Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit, that we are to listen to. This does not mean we should decamp church and start doing our own thing – tempting though that may be. It is to come together in some way, with that united heart and mind. How do we this? I have zero clue lately.
All I know is that we have to do something other than what we have been doing. Burrowing more deeply into tunnels of our own making, we are going far from God. Yet staying together demands a kind of candor, honesty, and actions that are hard to face and implement.
I’m not sure if I have the stomach for it. My lounge chair beckons on this sunny morning, I would rather go read a book, or maybe leave my deck and take a walk, or putter in my garden. In the end, I have to decide to stay or go and for now I stay. And as I do I pray mightily that the feeling I had at the ambo, where I looked at everyone with love, can somehow stay with me. Or rather me with it. And then, and only then, am I likely to begin to hear that mighty wind swirl, and somehow make my way into hearing something in a voice other than my own.
Will you join me? I hope so – I cannot do it alone.