ON FEAR. (Or, Why The Holy Spirit is a THOT)
Last week I did some travelling for an organization I belong to, and which is very dear to my heart, #decolonizeLutheranism. We were at an event to talk to clergy about our organization’s goal to encourage continual reformation of the church, with an eye towards radical justice. Like all of the members of the #decolonize leadership team, I believe with every fiber of my being that the church of Christ is G-d’s gift for all people, and that we must do whatever it takes to fling wide its doors to welcome all seeking souls. Like many of the members of the leadership team, that belief has cost me a call and severely limited my ability to find employment in the church.
The part of me that has G-d at its core says “C’est la vie-such is the cost of the gospel.” The rest of me spends most of its time being very, very afraid. Afraid of a lifetime of debt, afraid of the consequences of decades without access to medical care, afraid of starvation, and of the inevitable violence that is a part of life on the streets, but mostly, afraid of reaching a point where my untreated mental illness is so severe that my connection to reality is permanently broken. I have spent enough time homeless in my life to know that I probably won’t survive another round, but that if I do, it will likely drive me over the edge into madness. I have spent enough time on the brink to know that there is a point after which it’s impossible to step back.
So, I find myself leading a dual existence when I’m out in the world. There is the version of me that walks boldly in the gospel promises, proclaiming to all I meet the expansive welcome of a G-d who is “with us always, even unto the end of the age.” Then there is the version of me that scurries timidly through the underbrush, a frightened rabbit wondering ceaselessly when death and destruction will leap out from beneath the nearest hedge.
I did ok during my time away at holding the pieces together, until. Until the worship service on the last night, during which we sang Psalm 27, declaring to G-d and one another “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” Then things began to fall apart. Because I have lived so much of my life refusing to succumb to fear, treasuring bravery above nearly all other attributes. Because I know, in my heart and in my bones, that G-d is the source of all comfort and strength, and yet, I am very, very afraid. Because to be found out as a coward is not the American way.
Something broke inside me as we sang that psalm, and I journeyed homeward the next day feeling like my chest was full of clanking potsherds. Being around crowds of people was almost unbearable-I was sure that one accidental touch, one person looking my direction with just a tad too much compassion in their eyes would break me completely open, turning me into a quivering mass of grief, tears, and snot, all of which are frowned upon on public transportation. All I wanted, more than anything in the world, was to get home before the dam broke.
So, of course, the universe having a sense of humor and all, the transit authority changed their policy about buying tickets once on the train, and I had to wait in a long-ass line to get a ticket, which I held in my hot little hand as I watched the train I was supposed to be on pull away as I ran up the stairs to the platform. So. I had an hour to kill before the next train. Just one more hour to KEEP MY SHIT TOGETHER, PLEASE DEAR G-D AND SONNY JESUS. I waited and waited for a spot on a bench to open up, and when one finally did, I sat, head bowed, working hard not to make eye contact with any of the other life-forms there on the platform.
I had just taken a swig from my water bottle when I felt it-someone staring at me. No, wait-someone staring at me and BREATHING on me. Someone with no respect for the socially accepted bubble that was my G-d-given right, damnit. I looked up, ready to tell the interloper exactly how and where to get stuffed and locked eyes with a woman who was almost certainly homeless and very likely psychotic. I barely had a moment to register her torn clothes, shopping bags full of her possessions, and the deep, hot rage behind her eyes before she spoke-“Yeah, that’s right, you devil bitch. Drink that water down. I hope you choke on it.” I heard her gathering her saliva as she prepared to spit in my satanic face, and spluttered out the only thing I could think of-“Do you want some water, Ma’am?” Turns out, she did.
Running out of meds and ramping up into psychosis meant that she had forgotten to eat or drink anything lately, for who knows how long. Obtaining food and water takes a tremendous amount of work when you’re homeless-it’s so easy for other things to get in the way. I remember. So. We left the platform and went downstairs to the closest place to get some grub, and we ate and we drank. Water. Lemonade. Soft Pretzels. We said very little-she was far too suspicious to let me know anything about her, or to take her to shelter, or to provide any help beyond that humble meal. She did let me pray for her, though, so I did-some bumbling, high-church nonsense full of platitudes, and then a silent plea of desperation, begging G-d to turn that meal into communion, because the sacraments are the only shelter I know from which we can’t ever be evicted.
And Christ came. I taste him even now, his salty flesh resting solidly on my tongue. Parent G-d was there too, warming our feet and wiping our eyes as we shared our wordless terror and momentary repose. Oshun made an appearance as well-She danced flirtily around us, flipping her skirts made of lemonade and the sunlight that streamed between the rafters (#QueenBey peeped around the corner too, me thinks-I see you, baby!) Gabriel visited, and Michael-them and all G-d’s angels with their flip-flappy wings. And there, in that salty bread, in that sour wine, in the water that rinsed the dirt from my sister’s face and hands, in the cold of the breezy platform and the warmth of the sun that made it tolerable, in the uncomfortable bench on which we sat, and filthy floor on which we stood, Spirit was there. Flinging mercy about with abandon, that hoe. And for the briefest of moments, all manner of things were made well, and neither one of us was afraid.
And it changed nothing, that moment of peace and blessedness. She’s still homeless and crazy as fuck. Six months from now, with no meds of my own, I may be right back beside her, with no food, holy or otherwise, to share. That moment did nothing to fix the fact that we humans are still terrible at giving a shit about those amongst us in the most need, it did nothing to ameliorate the fact that this country is a suppurating garbage fire, it changed absolutely nothing about the fact that evil is real and it is close, and that it stalks us unceasingly.
All it did was remind me that the spirit of G-d is a slut. She gives exactly no shits about respectability, about who she’s supposed to be with, about the right time and place and manner in which to make an appearance. She comes and crashes the party, when and how she wills, in whatever body she chooses, and most of the time, she helps you come too.
And it is from all her heavenly thotery that revolution is born. She opens her legs and invites us in, there to dwell in the house of the Lord. And today, it is enough.