Three years ago on Pentecost Sunday I was being prayed for and over for a real live touch by the Holy Spirit. I attended worship that Sunday in the church where my formative years as a believer were spent; the church where I came to know the Lord and the Word, where I learned to love liturgy, the Book of Common Prayer, where I began to develop a theological framework that would make church always ‘home’ for me. I was, three years ago on Pentecost Sunday, at ‘home’ again in a church where I had made connections with God and some of God’s people that had put me on one path and not another – a path of God’s choosing, I believed.
It was a significant day in worship for me. I went with the full intention of praying, Come Holy Spirit Come – a prayer I not only had never prayed, but felt uncomfortable even hearing from other worshipers. Why do we have to pray for the Spirit to come when He is always present?
I had up to that point in my walk believed the Spirit had come to me, that my life had been animated by the Spirit.
I had a more cerebral than an experiential understanding of this. I thought of myself more like Peter after Pentecost – a slow drip of the Spirit that transformed my heart, my mind… moments, years, of absolute conviction and nearly as many peppered with doubt – than the overnight converted Paul, who after the touch of the Holy Spirit, saw and heard everything with a new, transformed heart and passion for Jesus.
I had accepted that the physical warming sensation so many describe as part of their conversion experience was not going to happen for me. It wasn’t God’s intention for me to know Him in this way. And that was okay – for years that was okay.
But on this Pentecost Sunday, I knew God was whispering something quite different and telling me it really wasn’t okay, that it wasn’t His intention that I miss the fullness of knowing Him , that He wanted me to feel His warmth, light, and presence throughout every cell of my being.
For me to be able to trust Him and walk into the broad place to which I thought He was calling me, I had to get way beyond feeling ‘comfortable’ with words Come Holy Spirit Come and into a place where I believed that with my invitation, the Spirit would come.
So, there I was three years ago, intentionally praying for jump start – a kick, a new infusion of the Spirit.
In real time what happened? I experienced no touch, no warmth or real joy.
But I wasn’t without feelings – deep feelings that manifested in tears. I wept as realized that it was by God’s hand that I was even in this particular church on Pentecost Sunday, alone but for familiar faces from my past. I was here inviting a touch for a reason. It was no coincidence that I found myself in these particular pews. After all, coincidence is nothing more than me working with and not independent or against God or as Albert Einstein is reported to have said, “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”
Point is, I wept as I realized God brought me here, that day. He needed me in a safe, broad place to talk to me. He needed to remind me of from whence I came to know where I was going and where He was leading me.
A whirlwind – that’s the best I can describe it. Not a warmth or touch of the Spirit in the traditional Pentecost sense. My life that looked to others as one devolved into chaos was surrounded and grounded in the whirlwind of the Spirit.
And onward I went with and through and on the path that I knew God had put me onto.
The whirlwind continued to work on me.
Two years ago – just one year to the date I had asked explicitly for a touch – Come Holy Spirit Come – I was preaching in God’s church. Incredible. The whirlwind had landed me in a broad place.
Then, last year. Three years to the date I had prayed – Come Holy Spirit, Come – I was alone, again, but as a worshiper, not a preacher, presider or proclaimer. And in a church I had never before attended. Had I come full circle? Was it not a whirlwind but a tornado that had temporarily lifted me up and out of one home and put me into another only to return me the pews?
And so, this year. I returned to a small church in my neighborhood. Familiar but not personally known faces I joined in the pews at peace and yet unsettled, at the same time.
I arrived at worship a bit early, so I prayed the psalm appointed to the Daily Office, Psalm 118. And I began to cry.
I have such a personal history with the language of this psalm, especially as it connects for me dots about Pentecost, the receiving of the Holy Spirit and the broad place.
It is a prayer of distress and gratefulness at the same time. It is a prayer for light, for guidance, for discernment.
And as I prayed this psalm this Pentecost Sunday in a neighborhood church as a worshiper, as I prayed it on my knees, recollecting the past few Pentecosts, realizing the presence of the Spirit in all of them, seeing the whirlwind that surrounds and grounds me, seeing how God has been working on and in me, praying all this through my tears, I was touched. This time with the warmth an aching heart and tears can illicit. A warmth – joy? – knowing that He had-has-will always answer me.
Psalm 118:5-9 5 Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me in a broad place. 6 With the LORD on my side I do not fear. What can mortals do to me? 7 The LORD is on my side to help me; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. 8 It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to put confidence in mortals. 9 It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to put confidence in princes.
Come, Holy Spirit, Come. Surround. Ground.