Holding On

Originally published by Ministry & Liturgy Magazine, March 2011
– PDF version –

I hold much fear within my body. I struggle to find my way out of the self-doubts and worries I carry with me from the past. Fear clings to me when new situations demand more of my attention or concern for others. I even realize how selfish I can be when one door closes in my life. Waiting for new life makes me impatient and restless. I wait for the depths of Pentecost in my own life.

I cannot imagine the fear that locked doors and huddled the disciples together after the death of Jesus. Painful uncertainty cramped their future plans. Grief suffocated their thoughts about living the example Jesus offered them. They crouched down in fear and hung on to the hands of each other behind those barred doors. The room and their lives seemed forever darkened.

Pentecost was birthed from this hand wringing and sweat about the future. Christ appeared in the stuffy room behind the closed and locked doors of their hiding. He opened up their lives with his very presence and the offering of his lasting peace. The key to stepping out of the dark room and into their future was the healing balm of Christ’s love and forgiveness. The hands of Christ’s followers opened up to receive him. Fear seemed forever useless.

I heard a new image of clinging to fear a few months ago. On First Fridays I lead a daylong retreat exposing people to matters of faith and poverty. The retreat includes a tour of our neighborhood that reveals controversial issues of adequate housing, nutritional food and affordable healthcare for people surviving poverty. I led this particular tour with a group of deacon candidates and their wives.

After the tour, one of the candidates shared that a deep memory of his mother surfaced during the tour. He remembered his mother taking him by the hand on a street corner and crossing to the other side to avoid homeless, smelly people. He began to cry as he realized that holding his mother’s hand taught him to fear people who were different from him. He acknowledged his mother’s instinct to protect him. He then confessed to the group that it was time for him to grow up, to let go of the hands of people who teach him to be afraid. This was Pentecost for this middle-aged man preparing to be ordained to serve the needs of people. This wake-up call released him from years of prejudice and ridicule toward God’s people living on the streets. This memory opened the door to discovering Christ’s peace within him and in people he has been called to serve.

Every worshipping community must let go fear in order to serve people in need. Pentecost pries open our fingers and challenges us to embrace God alone. Every community must let go of preconceived notions of people considered to be society’s outcasts. Pentecost invites us all to let go of the relationships that still teach us to stingingly criticize other people. We must not believe that separation and isolation are Gospel values. We must release our grasp from people who keep us in our childish ways. When we wake up to the Gospel our old patterns of negative thoughts and inaction fade. We welcome the Spirit as adults in full, active membership within the Body of Christ.

Pentecost vibrates our conscience and activates our hearts. Pentecost is not about shrouding the sanctuary in red silk, but celebrated when people have enough food to eat and sufficient clothing and adequate housing. This great celebration happens when our negative attitudes are replaced with genuine community, the Church. This solemn feast continues to break down walls and barriers. We must believe that we are called to welcome people who have given up on the Church, who are tired of the fight of being isolated because of mental illness, sexual orientation or living below the poverty line. We must listen to the sojourner no matter her experience. We must walk among the brokenhearted no matter how he has been treated in the past. Pentecost cannot be tapered to fit our prejudices or slip comfortably into our oppression of other people.

I witness doors flying open to new life every day as I am changed living among the marginalized. Only God heals people from destructive patterns of drug abuse, prostitution, broken marriages and thoughts of suicide. God’s beloved people teach me to let go of the hands that intended to protect me but also taught me to fear. Ministry among people who have no power in society is celebrated with great joy not only on Pentecost Sunday but every day, when we all decide not to live in fear and darkness.

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