Filled with Spirit 2013 05 19 Acts 2:1-21 (revised May 19)
When the disciples were accused of being drunk, their listeners must have thought they said spirits instead of Spirit.
If we treat our reading from Acts as being historically accurate, it can spur two feelings in us. One would be envy for the enthusiasm and gifts they had. Imagine being so fired up that nothing frightened them, to be so full of joy and understanding that nothing dismayed them. Oh, to have that kind of passion.
The other feeling would be fear: to let go of control of their lives; to be willing to spout what must have sounded like nonsense to their listeners; to look stupid, crazy or drunk. Oh, what a terrible condition to experience.
We can treat the reading as an interpretation of an experience of the Holy Spirit, using images from the Hebrew scriptures to point to what was important about their experience. And we will have the same two reactions since we know the enthusiasm of the apostles for their interpretation of their experience of Jesus caused them to risk torture and death for the sake of sharing his good news.
Finally, we can treat the reading as a story grounded in an Ahaa! moment in which the apostles finally understood Jesus after days and weeks of reflection and sharing of stories, and we will still have the same two reactions for the same reasons.
Whether you believe in the divinity of Jesus or believe he was an ordinary human who was specially gifted spiritually, encountering and embracing his story is potentially very dangerous and liberating at the same time. His special gift was creating connectedness: with self, with others, and with God. The name I want to give to this connectedness is Spirit.
For people like me, this Spirit feels personal, loving, and as though it comes from God, or is of God.
Other people may label this as spirituality, as more of a condition than a personal relationship. And still others may label this deep awareness or other words that make this an intellectual and emotional experience.
Many people seek spiritual fullness, but it is not something to be grasped like getting a degree, buying a house, or getting a bucket of take-out chicken. It requires the desire to be spiritually fulfilled, the patience to work and to seek, and the willingness to be vulnerable. We must expose ourselves in order to make connections. A concrete patch cannot stick to old concrete unless the old concrete has been thoroughly cleaned of all debris, dust, and crumbling bits that coat the part that is still connected. The masks, attitudes, habits and perceptions we accumulate around us can stop real connections from happening to us. We cannot properly greet anyone until we put out our hand. We cannot get value from food until we allow it into our bodies, potentially bringing in other stuff with it. And we cannot form new relationships with other people until we take some kind of risk in exposing ourselves. Unfortunately, doing the work and being vulnerable may not be enough. Like happiness, once we become willing to be vulnerable, spiritual fulfillment arrives when we are focused on something else, usually something we would call good.
A tougher question is why seek spiritual fulfillment? The risks and the benefits are plainly visible for all to see. An important gift of spiritual fulfillment is an exit out of loneliness. Spiritual fulfillment = connection. We may be alone, but we are always connected.
Another important gift is the opportunity to feel part of something that is greater, more enduring than we are. Many or most people want to help make the world a better place, and being full of Spirit provides the fuel for that kind of work while helping us come to know ourselves better.
Finally, I believe most or all of us are built for spiritual connectedness, and when that is missing, it leaves a persistently annoying hole in our lives. For me, spiritual connection is a necessary part of becoming fully human. It is also part of being awake, of being fully aware of our own selves and the world around us.
This is the hard part for people like me. i come with a family history of being workers and doers, and I eagerly seek out things to do. But deep spiritual connection begins in being. in the movie, The Other Side of the Mountain, the main character is a competitive female skier who breaks her back when she skids off the track and down the mountain. After months in therapy, her fiance comes to see her and she excitedly shuffles a few feet with the aid of a walker, and he is extremely disappointed. To him she was incomplete, broken. He was in love with what she could do. Another friend shares her joy in her achievement and they eventually marry. He was in love with who she was. Spirit connection begins and ends in who and how we are: the doing spurred by the Spirit comes in between.
Pavel Kolesnikov, the laureate of the Honens Festival last fall had this to say about his role as a classical musician: one role was to comfort the world, to comfort people. The other role was to wake people up, a process that is usually painful. Being spirit-filled provides ways to comfort and the means to wake people up, the two halves of the ministry carried out by Jesus, and by his followers, and by the church today. People may hate us when we try to wake them up, but that is part of our ministry.
The initial audience or public for the disciples were Jewish pilgrims to Jerusalem, and that public expanded in a few years to the whole Roman Empire. Who is our audience today? Where will the Spirit take us? I don’t know, but the words of the Shaker hymn, “Simple Gifts”, encourage me as I wander and as I wonder.
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free, ’tis the gift to come down where you ought to be, and when we find ourselves in the place just right, ’twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed, to turn, turn will be our delight ’til by turning, turning, we come round right.
May the Spirit fill us, and bring us to the place just right.