12 March 2009

Got Lucky?

Get your mind out of the gutter first. What I mean is that last Sunday I brought a very poor text into the pulpit but boy did I get a good response.

It was poor for several reasons. I had only come back to the east two days before. Yes, I made notes on the plane but at that altitude much of what I write is almost as thin as the air. And just getting the brain back into work (with a little reluctance I must admit, the aroma of redwoods still in my nose and the sound the pacific still in my ears) I felt anything but ready.

So were all those people wrong to find it inspiring? No. But neither was I wrong about my material. What gives?

The Holy Spirit.

You do know that I serve a liberal (read skeptical) tradition, right? The very idea of a Holy Spirit makes them take two steps back, and the thought that a leader in the tradition is saying this makes them look for pods. (You do get that reference, right?) I assure you I am a card carrying skeptic about the efficacy of prayer, the reality of an afterlife, the need for salvation and other things.

So where do I come off claiming to experience the Holy Spirit.

Because nothing else explains how a preacher who should be better prepared is able to speak with enough clarity and honesty that half baked thoughts and rough hewn sentences are able to be heard deeply and with spiritual power in other people?

I didn’t do it. I was there and I know. Now, I am not claiming to be possessed like some saint or medium. But I am saying that there was more in the room than the people and me.

There always is, actually. But only now and then do we connect with it. There are no foolproof ways to make it happen. Sometimes all the thought and preparation in the world builds a wall not a bridge. Sometimes it is a bridge. And sometimes it just happens.

One thing I do know is that it requires being real, even when that means stumbling. In parts of the African-American tradition congregations literally help a struggling preacher crying out “Help him Lord” or when the spirit begins to connect, “Preach it.” I could use some of that from time to time. But that’s hard for people in my culture, where poised performance is the standard, especially in larger churches where highly planned services are the mark of excellence.

But what sort of excellence are we looking for really?

What I am saying, and I am stumbling now trying to express this even on paper friends, is that I think I may be becoming a no-kidding, fire-breathing, pentecostal intellectual religious liberal. As I look at those words on the page they seem scary even to me.

Do me a favor and don’t tell anyone else, OK?


Lizard Eater said...

Count me in the club of UU-costals.

God? BIG concept.

Jesus? Complicated.

Holy Spirit? Two thumbs up and a Hallelujah.

One of my favorite stories about it comes from Paul Stookey, who donated all of the profits from "The Wedding Song" to charity, because "Into every songwriter's life comes a song, the source of which cannot be explained by personal experience ..."

WFW said...

God - you got that right.
Jesus - really simple.
It's everyone else who made him complicared.

Elisa Winter said...

'bout time, Rev.

Check out the "Eat, Pray, Love" author Elizabeth Gilbert on TED talks about the "muse," aka the holy spirit. Amen.

You're a Fred-shaped doorway for the holy spirit now.

Elisa Winter said...

"There's a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."
L. Cohen

WFW said...

which cohen song is that from?

Robin Edgar said...

I have to respectfully disagree with you about Jesus Rev. Wooden. He was hardly "simple" in any sense of the word. Definitely somewhat "complicated", and then of course there was Paul. . . :-)

Revwilly said...

What you write about is certainly not foreign to me. Based on the comments above it does not seem that foreign to members of your congregation - more responses to this post than most others.

WFW said...

Sorry Robin, Jesus was simple. The man and his message are painfully direct. But simple is not the same as easy. The whole golden rule thing - simple as can be. Doing it? That's hard. That's where Paul comes in, right?

Will, none of the respondents above are resident congregants. But you are right, folks like to talk about this stuff. My gut, though, tells me that most folks on the spiritual left internalize and personalize the idea of spirit. Real pentecostalism is about outward and social manifestations of the spirit. Plugging into the divine grid is scary and should be. I am reading Isaiah a lot, and he takes no prisoners as you know.

Revwilly said...

Back to the not being well prepared thing - you've read what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12 about weakness, haven't you?

Elisa Winter said...

Don't know which Leonard Cohen song that is, Rev. I'll try to find out. How do I learn to do "outward and social manifestions of the spirit" in a UU way? I REALLY want to. Right now. This instant. And then forever more.

WFW said...

Will - Of course, but the words are not commtted to memory. Paul is a favorite of mine, not because I agree with him but because he is so human and so real. I can feel the person there.

Elisa - If I knew believe me I would tell you. Something tells me that the only way to know is to take some blind leaps along with come calculating steps and listen very hard for whatever comes after.

Robin Edgar said...

Sorry Will,

Jesus is not nearly as "simple" as that, at least not in terms of how he is described in the four gospels and other New Testmant texts. One could even reasonably argue that he was not only "complicated" but conflicted. He certainly did not always practice what he preached. . . Sure if you want to ignore various contradictions you can create a "simple" Jesus but if you look at the proverbial "big picture" Jesus gets more complex.