Monday, May 28, 2012

May 20, 2012 - Reflection by Rev. David Boyd - Pentecost Sunday

I think I first realized that ministry was a possibility in my life, rather than something I never, ever wanted to do, when I took 1st year biology at UBC. As some of you know, my undergraduate degree was in Zoology. I was headed for medical school; I did not want to be a minister like my father was. But when I took 1st year biology, we had to do a tutorial lab at the end of the course and one of the options, which only appealed to two or three of us in a class of 100 or so, was the philosophy of science. We studied Thomas Kuhn, a scientist who first coined the term "paradigm shift." I wrote a brief paper about the intersection of science and religious thought. This course was an inkling that I needed to pay attention to my spirit rather than solely focusing on reason. Or to put it another way, I needed to spend an equal amount of time in my heart AND my head!
I was a fairly rationally-minded person through high school. I took the science and academic courses. While I don't think I was a nerd, the equivalent of geek in the 1970's, for I also enjoyed sports and music, I wasn't a jock or part of the popular crowd. (I was much too contrary-minded to fit in.) Most of my friends in high school, my contemporaries, went on into academia, or became engineers. This was the group that relied on the use of mind and reason, and I was firmly in that group.
What really pushed me to mind my spirit, if you'll accept the pun, is that my dad had his first stroke in 1982 when I was 22. That fall, I met a man who's become a life-long friend, Kevin whom some of you have met, who comes out of the Ukrainian Orthodox tradition and who was studying at Vancouver School of Theology where I was living at the time. He was into meditation and he taught me to meditate that fall. This was one of the single-most important moments that helped me appreciate the more spiritual aspects of life. Of course, being present at my children's birth didn't hurt that process, either!
I think that the translation that we have from John's Gospel, where the Spirit is called the Advocate, is an interesting translation. That's what it felt like for me, and continues to feel like—the Spirit as my Advocate. And I know from conversations with others, the Spirit feels like an advocate, one who works on our behalf for life... and abundant life at that. The literal translation is that of paracletos, a word that literally means "supporter" or "helper". "The Spirit helps us in our weakness for we do not know how to pray as we ought. The Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words," is how Paul phrased it. The word that Paul used for Spirit is the word we are more accustomed to and that is pneuma or breath. John is the one who uses the word, paracletos, however. As Paul wrote his letter long before John wrote his gospel, this tradition of Spirit as the Breath of God was familiar to John but he chose to use his word, paraclete, as a way of furthering an understand of what the Spirit is or what the Spirit does, that being advocacy.
Help is perhaps too passive, though, for the Spirit does more than help us. The Spirit cajoles us, prompts us, and interrupts our orderly lives with chaos and new directions. The Spirit doesn't like complacency, but is interested in life bursting forth. Think Genesis and the Spirit of God hovering—brooding is the translation that I like—over the waters of creation giving birth. Chaos was too complacent for God. We mistakenly think of life as orderly and that God brought order out of chaos; I think that God's Spirit, in introducing life, introduced a level of disorder and chaos in the mix; there was nothing before there was life, but life is nothing if not chaotic! If we are too much in our heads, the Spirit helps us get into our hearts. If we are too much into our hearts, the Spirit helps us to appreciate our minds. The Spirit attempts to help us find balance by introducing a degree of imbalance into our lives. That's the genius of the Spirit's advocacy or help, leading us into chaos in order to experience the abundance of life more fully.
Think of this little poem from Eleazar Ben Kaller, someone who lived between 1000 and 1300 years ago, no one is quite sure of his dates. It is a poem of contrasts, which is what the Spirit is all about, holding the tension of polarities, something of what I said last week. Ben Kaller wrote his poem, according to a translation by T. Carmi, likening the burning bush experience that Moses had to the coming of the Spirit:
Now an angel of God appeared to Moses in a blazing fire –
a fire that devours fire;
a fire that burns in things dry and moist;
a fire that glows amid snow and ice;
a fire that is like a crouching lion;
a fire that reveals itself in many forms;
a fire that is, and never expires;
a fire that shines and roars;
a fire that blazes and sparkles;
a fire that flies in a storm wind;
a fire that burns without wood;
a fire that renews itself every day;
a fire that is not fanned by fire;
a fire that billows like palm branches;
a fire whose sparks are flashes of lightning;
a fire black as a raven;
a fire, curled, like the colours of the rainbows!
The mystery of the Spirit's presence in our lives is the mystery that confounds order and the order that confounds chaos. That's why it's sometimes easier to ignore the Spirit, because she requires something of us—our attention! We have to pay attention to life and the ways that lead to a fuller living. Spirituality is about new ways of being, not something beyond us, but something within us, that enables, indeed that empowers us, to live the fullness of who we are as individuals, each with our own unique gifts. And that empowerment is in directions that surprise because the Spirit, deeply within, knows us and knows where our learning and growing edges are and might be. And that's all of us, at whatever age and stage of life we might be.
May the Spirit disturb your life so that you might live more fully and abundantly. Amen.

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