Sunday, April 27, 2008

Another comforter

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete, 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.

I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.

John 14:15-21

There are times in our lives in which we can almost reach out and touch the presence of God. Incredibly, I had two of them today.

One was this afternoon; the kids' music groups at my church presented a concert. By way of setup, nine months ago, we didn't have much of a kids' music program. Thanks to the efforts of two brave, committed, talented, creative women on my staff, we now have two ensembles: a children's choir, which has gone from six to fifteen members in nine months, and a drumming group, large and spirited. Both of these groups have given those kids an opportunity to serve God, to make music, to grow as people of faith, to have fun together, and to learn about living as contributing members of a community.

They offered a full-length concert program of all the music they've learned this year. They sang, danced, drummed, played hand chimes, offered readings, and some kids played other instruments and offered their visual art to the program. They brought their families and friends to hear eight-year-old girl filled three pews with people she invited personally, including her third-grade teacher. But that isn't the best part. The sounds that they made, the message they presented, and the sparkle in their eyes–THAT was the best part. They've made palpable progress as musicians and as people, this year. Kids as young as three stood with their fellow singers for a program more than an hour long, as full contributing members. They were proud of themselves. They were beautiful. It went well beyond cute and into profound.

That was, to me, an experience of the presence of the Holy Spirit, who was invited by all the open hearts who made it possible, and by the fact that they set their faith "on its feet" to do good work, by God's grace.

The other moment was not foreseeable; it was one of those moments in which, all of a sudden, something profound is happening, having taken us by surprise (well, me, at least). The above passage from John was today's Gospel lesson. I'd led my choir in the Thomas Tallis anthem "If Ye Love Me," the beautiful motet on that text, performed elegantly in the above video by the Taipei Chamber Singers.

We had received a whole bunch of new members at the beginning of the service, just before the Confession and Forgiveness. Wonderful Colleague had unpacked the heart of the John text in his sermon–that God never leaves us alone; that, although Jesus had to go away from his disciples, he was sending another Paraclete to be with them. Now, I'd heard this before, with the associated definitions of Advocate and Comforter, and thought (a bit simplistically) that it was kind of God to make that provision for us, as we obviously need it–need someone to plead for us sometimes (reminding the Creator that we're doing the creaturely best we can), and to give us the occasional reassuring spiritual pat.

New dimensions were added to my thinking about this text today. First, Wonderful Colleague quoted Rosemary Radford Ruether's thinking about how being church together is about two things: the handing on of tradition, and allowing the voice of the Spirit to reshape that tradition a bit in each generation, addressing questions that could not possibly have been imagined by the disciples hearing Jesus' Farewell Discourse in person:
  • is it ever O.K. to use nuclear weapons?
  • is it O.K. for a person in a faithful, committed same-sex relationship, who has been called into ministry, to preach and preside at the Lord's table?
  • what are we to do in regard to the questions of immigration in our time and place?
The Spirit is Advocate, Comforter, and Fresh Breeze. Might ruffle some feathers, but will spur us into new ways of thinking, of being Church and Community together. It made me pay substantially more attention to the Spirit of Truth we'd sung about in the anthem than I had before that moment. It got us all thinking, challenged us.

I could feel the air moving.

And then, a few minutes later, as Wonderful Colleague was about to begin the consecration, paramedics were hurrying up the center aisle. One of our older members had collapsed. From where Beloved and I were sitting with the choir, it was impossible to tell who was in distress, but honestly, there was no good answer to that question anyway. I was fretting and trying to remember who I'd seen sit down in that section, trying to peer over there without staring and drawing even more attention to whomever it was lying in the pew. WC let the medics work for a couple of minutes, holding off on the prayers until we could be more present to them.

There were some moments of anxious silence, and then Thoughtful Organist (seated at the piano) decided to play. Her wonderful choice: the tune BRED DINA VIDA VINGAR, which is associated in my congregation with the following text by Gracia Grindal:

Thy holy wings, O Savior,
spread gently over me
and let me rest securely
through good and ill in thee.
Oh, be my strength and portion,
my rock and hiding place
and let my every moment
be lived within thy grace.

Oh, let me nestle near thee,
within thy downy breast
where I will find sweet comfort
and peace within thy nest.
Oh, close thy wings around me
and keep me safely there,
for I am but a newborn
and need thy tender care.

Oh, wash me in the waters
of Noah's cleansing flood.
Give me a willing spirit,
a heart both clean and good.
Oh, take into thy keeping
thy children great and small
and while we sweetly slumber,
enfold us one and all.

For a few minutes, there we all were in the nest, under God's wing. One of our own was having some trouble, but was being cared for by those around her, by medical personnel, and by a Comforter so big and deep that even the panic of that moment was stilled, dwarfed by a mysterious love so much greater than we are.

She was able to walk out of the room, and went to the hospital for follow-up. Several people are checking on her tonight and tomorrow.

The rest of us little birds gathered around the Table and then sang the hymn. I'll never hear it the same way again. The Spirit—the Advocate, the Wind of Truth and the Comforter—was abundantly present in my community today.

Deo gratias.


The Swandive said...

Simply beautiful. Thank you.

Singing Owl said...

I've never heard that song nor seen the words--beautiful!

FranIAm said...

That is gorgeous -what a post. I am so moved by this.

Thank you!

Cecilia said...

I echo what FranIAm said... this was simply gorgeous, so moving. Thank you for your witness.

Pax, C.

Choralgirl said...

Thanks, y'all. :-)

Amazing, isn't it, how God is as close as our next breath--if we just NOTICE?