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Every Time I Feel the Spirit


28 May 2023

As most of you know, I spent a couple weeks in Grand Marais Minnesota. It is home to the Northhouse Folk School, where a mind-boggling variety of old time skills and traditional ethnic crafts are taught. I could take a class a week for a year and never learn all the skills!! I took a course in basic blacksmithing along with 6 other women. Because I had been on the waitlist for months and had gotten in at nearly the last minute, I had the feeling I was destined to be there.

I don’t know about you, but blacksmithing brings visions of a young Burt Reynolds as the very buff Quint Asper, pounding away on his anvil as all the problems of Dodge City are solved by Matt Dillon and crew in Gunsmoke. It seems that blacksmiths have a long and illustrious history; Tubal Cain is the first blacksmith in the Bible. Who can forget the name Vulcan? The Norse god of blacksmithing was Brokkr.

However, a female smithy was, historically rare but neither an anomaly nor something scandalous!! There is documentation of women smithies hundreds of years ago.

So I was following in a proud, if somewhat limited, tradition. After the three-day course, I was ready to take up the trade or at least pound out my frustrations!! Wielding a large, heavy hammer and pounding on molten iron will do that to you. It is a trade that depends on fire and metal, an act of chemistry and physics. You light coal in a forge and feed it air and more coal and it produces temperatures of well over 1000 degrees F. All the impurities are burned away. The coal turns to coke, which is the real fuel for producing intense heat. In short you need fire, hot fire that will kill you if things go wrong. But without that fire, an iron bar remains just that: an iron bar. Not very useful. Yet with the magic, or rather the science, of heat applied to iron and the brute force of a blacksmith’s hammer pounding the molten iron against an anvil, you get something entirely different. Tools, hooks, decorative items, and of course weapons, all of which require fire. And nothing ever comes out exactly the same. Everything is unique.

And so it is with the Holy Spirit. She is God within us, uniquely present in each of our lives. She is the fire that makes us burn and shapes our lives in service to God. She is also the one who is our rock and our comforter.

Our reading today takes place long before Jesus’ execution when Jesus is celebrating the Festival of Booths, or Shelters, with his followers. The festival, a recollection of the time in the Wilderness, ends with a holy man filling a vessel with water from the pool of Siloam and then pouring the water on the great alter as the shofar sounded. As the water flowed down the stone alter, he said the people would draw water from the wells, water that would set them free. And Jesus then makes the claim he is that water; we drink from the well of life when we are baptized, when we renew our baptismal vows, and when we receive the spirit as the outpouring of the water of life. When Jesus laid down his life, when he overcame death and rose to glory, the spirit was released to be part of all who chose to receive it.

Joyce Rupp wrote a poem for Pentecost where the Holy Spirit is called the Visitor of Grace, one who comes as a tender breeze or a fierce wind, caring for us and yet stirring us to action.

Sometimes it speaks to us from a reading; one of those “ah ha” moments. The spirit has put it in my mind to jump into the reading, to be part of the core group that followed Jesus and then wonder what that meant for me to do and be. I would feel I was called to do something or go somewhere I did not want. I name that “The Jonah Voice.”

I have had conversations with people and, as I thought about it, realized that I believe God was telling me something through my conversation. It was one such conversation with a friend that, unbeknownst to her, made me realize I was called not to be a deacon but to the priesthood.

Sometimes it is seeing the lived experience of another who is marginalized that calls us to new ways of being. That is also the work of the Spirit. I believe my father went from being frankly racist to understanding the need for true justice because of his experiences with black Americans he came to know. That is the spirit at work.

The spirit has taught me to recognize that all places and spaces are holy, but sometimes there is a moment or a place where I feel, as the Irish and Scots say, the world is thin. That too is a way that the Spirit tells me God is working in the world and through me.

I have never been moved to talk in tongues, handle snakes, or dance in the aisles. The Pentecostal strain of the Holy Spirit hasn’t ever knocked on my door and found me at home. I daresay that would be true for most Episcopalians. I am more likely to have the Spirit call me to sit with the dying and to listen to someone tell their story.

You all have felt the Spirit; none of you in quite the same way. There are many gifts among God’s people. How many songs and hymns are there calling upon the spirit? From the Latin chant, veni creator spiritus, haunting in its complexity buried in simplicity, to songs of the 18th and 19th centuries such as Come Down O Love Divine, Loving Spirit, to Shine Jesus Shine and the Taize Holy Spirit Come to Us in the 20th century. My all time favorite? It simply, without question, is Mahalia Jackson singing Every Time I Feel the Spirit. It even makes me dance when no one is watching.

As Joyce said

O wild, beguiling, pushy, playful, determined Spirit,

I am ready for you to entice my heart further,

to enter into a deeper and more complete communion

with your gusty and life-giving presence.

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