It is probably presumptuous of me to think that many people read this blog, but it is serving as an outlet for my thoughts and feelings. It has virtually nothing to do with my employment, or “day job”, as I refer to it. It has everything to do with the rest of my life.
For most of my adulthood, I have sought for the truly spiritual experience, but looked for it in places where the spirits encountered might not necessarily be ones I should have been seeking. Somehow, religion and family were all tied up together, and for too long, I was in a slow process of rebelling against all of it to find my own way. I lived across the country from family, although I went through the motions for a while, and even attended a church. I allowed myself to be elected Deacon of my congregation, but it didn’t take long before I realized I wasn’t ready for that responsibility, hit the eject button and jettisoned myself out into the world of the so-called New Age movement. I spent hours in now closed Shambhala bookstore on Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue, reading about Eastern Christianity, astrology and mysticism. I took meditation “classes” and learned about “out of body experiences”. It was all interesting, even fun sometimes. I kept myself active with places to go, things to do, and people to see, except when I had nowhere to go but the living room couch, never changing out of sweats with the remote and whatever food I was using to try to fill up the huge hole in my soul, and with nothing to do but numb my brain with television or music. Those would be weekends where I said nothing to anyone. Sometimes, on Friday nights, I’d light my candles or even light a log in the fireplace, put Pink Floyd or Moody Blues on the stereo, turn the ringer off on the phone, extinguish the lights, and just stare into the flames while the music carried me away somewhere in my mind.
I’m probably lucky that each of those following mornings, I found myself back on the couch or lying on the living room floor where I had gone to sleep when the stereo cut off and the log or candles burned out. Of course, then it meant I would have to face another boring Saturday with myself for company. If I did anything at all, it usually meant grocery shopping; or maybe down the block for some bagels, sometimes to the Safeway. Sometimes I dated, but the relationships wouldn’t last long, and I finally decided it would be o.k. if I stayed single, and decided to just be comfortable. I wrote silly poetry about dreams I had, commemorating the deaths of each. My manufactured existence evolved into my thinking I was actually successful, and I even fancied myself to be happy. After all, I WAS living in one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Certainly, there was something about the area keeping millions of people - - myself among them - - resident there when the entire nine-county area is built upon a maze of dozens of seismically active faults! It has taken me a while to realize that it was the city itself that I loved - - the hills, street patterns, landmarks and, of course, the fog - - rather than its people; the “prestige” of having that San Francisco address and actually adoring my flat, rather than feeling particularly great about my job or about the neighborhood, its six Irish pubs in walking distance notwithstanding. I just never envisioned myself leaving; I had become a Californian. It took a 7.1 upheaval to literally shake those realizations into my head; when I became aware that just as easily, I could have been on the Bay Bridge or on the Nimitz Freeway, or out at Candlestick Park, or in the Marina District. Instead, I was safe and sound in my office, listening to the shattering windowpanes, and watching my little knick-knacks falling off the shelves and the lateral file drawers opening and closing. Some fifteen months later, when my plane flew north over the “bay” and I looked out the window to the west, locating Highway 101 in the street light pattern and looking a block and half past it to where “my” flat was located, I sobbed, weeping for a good fifteen minutes before I finally stopped and decided that sleeping would be a better use of the “red eye” flight. I tear up even now just thinking about it. That was nearly twenty years ago, and I haven’t been back. Part of me is still there; whether it is my heart or not is debatable, but it was a little bit of something valuable, I think.
By the time that flight landed in Charleston, South Carolina, I had managed to reapply my happy face, and assured my folks that I was just tired; that they didn’t call them red-eye flights for nothing. Over the next couple of years, my spoiled-brat-kid issues with my family dissolved, and we forged the intense, rock solid bond we now have. Initially to make them happy, but later because I really loved it, I started attending worship services at the Presbyterian church in which my folks were members. Over time, some of the other singles in the congregation and I joined with some from other churches in the area, and attended various and sundry events and activities together. My philosophy by this point was to get a group together to do stuff I liked to do. If I met someone to date, great; if not, at least I got to have a good time. No surprises, I met my husband there and following our wedding, came to Virginia. Our life here has been pretty happy, on balance; we all have good times and not-so-good times.
In all things, God works for good for those who love him and keep his commandments.
During my husband’s very serious illness a few years ago, I had my first real tangible, conscious experience of the Holy Spirit - - I know you were wondering what all this has had to do with the Holy Spirit - - when people and circumstances aligned in such a way as to be absolutely perfect for the situation at hand. These were not those experiences where one looks back at them and says, ‘oh yes, that must have been the Spirit at work’; no, I felt, I KNEW it while it was happening. And yet, I could say nothing; how can one explain it when one cannot perceive something with the five senses? I couldn’t articulate it because it was all too startling, too perfect to simply be the coincidences that other people might argue they were. The Spirit is the only explanation for what is otherwise a mystery.
The same sense of awe surrounds the process we commissioners went through last week at the 219th General Assembly. We disagreed agreeably; we worshipped collectively and prayed in small, table enclaves, usually as presbytery groupings; we frequently sang hymns or stopped for prayer as we moved through the items of business. Questions were simply that, questions. Generally speaking, stands for or against motions were expressed in terms of the ideas’ merits, and never degenerated into personal attacks against those who made the motions in the first place. Even the protest group that briefly interrupted the Assembly on Friday afternoon was peaceful, and was treated with respect. If not by the Holy Spirit, how else were the emotions of the 700-or-so -commissioners kept in check while discussing the “hot button” issues? How else could we disagree with each other in one breath, yet hold hands in prayer the next? In nearly each and every decision made, whether at the committee or plenary level, common ground was vigorously sought. How else could that have happened? We dealt with highly charged, passion-eliciting issues! I’ve tried to explain it in my mind as good planning, as it was; good moderating, as it certainly was; the orderly nature of our polity, well maybe; or was it the unshakeable duty to stay united in spite of, or perhaps even because of, our differences? Sure, and it was all of these, joining in what - - a marvelous set of coincidental occurrences? I know better. Each of them absolutely played an important role, to be sure. But the Holy Spirit is the love binding us to God through Jesus Christ. I know this because I am a Presbyterian, an elder commissioner and a true believer. The 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) was visited by the Holy Spirit last week in response to our invitation; and out of our hearts the rivers of living water will flow as we glorify the everlasting and all powerful triune God. May the LORD be with you!