Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Is It Hot in Here or Am I on Fire?

I was recently moved into a new role of service at my local Episcopal Church: verger. To put it in simplest terms, the vergers are the house or stage managers during the service. You're paying attention to the acolytes, to the Eucharistic Ministers, to the priests, to the congregation. We keep the order; hence we're given the virge to carry: ornate wooden sticks that were originally meant to keep the "unruly" in line. And we wear a purple chimere: a long, sleeveless, academic-like garment that goes over our poly-cotton blend cassocks. Just in time for the heat of the Florida summer!

When I'm serving as a verger, I'm "on"... and not in the way that I want to be. Because my "on" is often not "on" the one thing I want it to be on: namely, I am there to bless God with all my soul. My attention is forced to be divided between God and the matters of "order" in the service. That was definitely true this past Sunday, where we had many additional moving parts because it was Pentecost and we had baptisms. No sooner had I put on my vestments that I was getting question after question about the location of various items for the Baptisms, and locating the participants in the various roles of our Pentecost procession, and checking on the families of the soon-to-be baptized and answering their final questions, and realizing nobody had told the ushers to reserve the pews by the Baptismal font for those families. By the time we were ready to gather the altar party for a prayer, I was sweating having just done a full aerobic workout getting everything and everyone "in order."

What a funny juxtaposition of realities. Here I am, in this "order-keeping" role on the very day we are celebrating and acknowledging that the Holy Spirit was about to blow all sense of "order" out the window!

Perhaps it was that realization which allowed me to hear the lessons that morning, and find myself getting pulled deeper into these texts than I ever have before.

I have been reading the modern day mystic Andrew Harvey's book, "Son of Man," which is rich beyond measure for me in terms of seeing how each of us has the potential to become more at one with The One, if we will allow ourselves to experience all the steps that Christ did... including temptation, the feelings of loneliness, the crucifixion of our ego, and finally arising in a new transfigured state of being. This can't be done by emotion alone, or intellect alone, or senses alone. This requires the whole being to give into this process. And it's daunting, daring, difficult, but ultimately it's the direction we should strive for if we, in fact, want to be "in Love." With that as my back drop, all of my earlier exercise gave way to listening, not so much to the Acts lesson, which I am very familiar with after so many Pentecosts, but hearing what Paul had to say to the Romans about who we are as children of God.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery tofall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearingwitness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ--if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.--Romans 8:14-17

I felt my body getting warmer as I listened to these words. I had been thinking about the importance of Christ's cautionary tale in the Gospels about coming to the kingdom like a child, and offering a stern warning to anyone who gets in the way of a child who is approaching God. As I heard this Romans reading, I thought about what it means when our spirit is crying out to God as "Abba! Father!" to be met, wherever we are in the journey, by the Spirit who recognizes the one calling, and invites us children to come closer, so that we might, as heirs, grow up into Christ, and have a Christ-like mind within us. We come to God as infants, and as we grow closer to Abba, we are also growing up as spiritual beings. This growth will change us. The trick is to remember that this change and this growth should be directed toward opening the doors and windows of the prisons of fear, or greed, or prejudice, or whatever and allowing those who have been kept prisoner (including ourselves) to see that they, too, can be transformed. My hands started feeling a little moist with sweat as I thought about this, and the realization that in about 15 minutes, we would be reciting the Baptismal Covenant with those who were about to be marked and sealed as Christ's own forever. That covenant is a pledge, not only of recommitting ourselves to living and loving as Christ did, but to pass along an ethic based on Love and encourage those who were becoming initiated into our family as the new brother and sisters-in-Christ to seek God first in all things and all people.

If that wasn't turning up the heat in my heart, I then heard the Gospel of John:

The words that I say to you I do not speak onmy own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. "If youlove me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.--John 14:10b-17

Again, I thought, "Am I having a hot flash? Is it these vestments causing this heat?" as my hands became warmer.

No, it wasn't an external source. I was hearing in the message what I believe Christ's almost riddle-like farewell speech was attempting to say: "My mind, my soul, and my body have achieved a level of being at one with The One." And, looking at the disciples, he was letting them (and centuries later, us) know that they, and we, have this ability, but only if we are prepared to go as far as giving our selves (yes, I mean our "selves") over to God. When I listen to John's writing, I hear a mystical experience of Christ. I hear the Jesus who Mahatma Gandi greatly admired, but then confessed he didn't like "our Christians" in this country because "they aren't really like Christ." Pity that!

As I've noted before, I feel as though the Alchemist is ready to pick me up with the tongs and stick me in the fire for some more refinement. Perhaps what I was feeling were the flames getting closer to me.

How very like Pentecost!


fr dougal said...

Excellent stuff - never quite had that experience but have known moments when the veil has "thinned". They often indicate something significant in the wind for our spiritual journey.

SCG said...

Thank you, fr dougal, and so good to hear from you. I'll keep you (and others who stumble upon this blog) up to date on how I am shaped and formed in these coming months. I think I am standing on the brink of some new twist in this journey.