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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Shekinah

Pat Fulmer
Well, church, tomorrow is Pentecost Sunday - the day when Jesus gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Please take out your 1982 Hymnal and turn to the section near the back - Hymns numbered 500 through 516 - and let's look at all the hymns about the Holy Spirit.

Without a doubt, there are some lovely hymns there. "Come Holy Spirit, heavenly dove" (510). "Holy Spirit, ever living" (511). "Like the murmur of the dove's song" (513). And, of course, the perennial favorite, "Come down, O Love Divine" (516).

There's also 502 "Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire" - of't chanted by the bishop and congregation just before the moment of ordination and made even more effective when preceded and followed by a prolonged moment of silence.

And, who could forget Edwin Hatch's moving "Breathe on me Breath of God" (508)?

They are lovely, aren't they?

Many of them sound like lullabies when they don't sound simply grand. We ask the Spirit to 'guide us' and 'lead us'. To breathe on us and "fill us with life anew". To "kindle a flame of sacred love in these cold hearts of ours."

I was taught - way, way, back, when I was in seminary - that the Hymnal is the church's theology book for the people in the pew. If that is so - and I think, for the most part and in many cases, it is - what do the words and music teach us about the Holy Spirit?

Well, I think the church teaches us what it wants us to know about the work of the Third Person of the Trinity in our lives of faith.

So, here's my question: Is that all there is to know about the Holy Spirit? Does that really square with what we read in ACTS 2:1-21?

So, put down your hymnals and open your bibles to the second chapter of the Book of Acts.

What? No bibles in your pew? Ah, that's right. We're in The Episcopal Church. We can't always quote chapter and verse, but we can tell you where to find things in the Book of Common Prayer.

Well, let's see. Hmm... No 'murmur of the dove's song". Scripture says, "And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting".

No "kindling of a flame". Scripture says, "Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them".

No "gentle spirit of guidance". Scripture says, "All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."

One year, when I was Vicar of a small, rag-tag inner city mission in the City of Newark, we decided to celebrate Pentecost with Eucharist out in the church yard, followed by an "international" Pot Luck Picnic.

My, my, and what a feast it was! There was curried goat and bean pie, collard greens and ham hocks, macaroni and cheese and chitlins, fried chicken and sweet potato pie.

Oh, and did I mention the fried apples? I loves me some fried apples.

After the service, I sat with one of my favorite parishioners, Miz Eula Jefferson. As we ate our marvelous feast, we shared some small talk about the kids playing jump rope and baseball - and, my, hasn't he gotten tall, and isn't she so pretty - when Ms. Jefferson zeroed in on me.

"Lemme ax you a question, Rev," she said in her South Carolinian drawl.

"Sure," I said.

"So, do you believe all that stuff we just sang in there?"

"I'm not sure what you mean," I said.

"Oh, you know, 'bout the Holy Spirit?"

"Well, yes, m'am. I mean... I'm not sure what you're asking, Ms. Jefferson."

She smiled and shifted her weight in the folding chair that was shifting in the soft grass of the church lawn.

I should have known by her smile that I was in trouble.

"Well," she said, "I don't mean no offense, and mebe it's just me, but in my experience - and you'll 'scuse my french - White People don't know shit about the Holy Spirit."

I laughed. Right out loud. I mean, what else was I supposed to do?

"I can say that to you, Rev, because you ain't like most White people," she said as she took my hand.

"Really?" I said, "How so?"

"Oh, you crazy, girl."

I laughed again. "Coming from you, I'll take that as a compliment."

"Huh!" she said, not smiling. "If I was to believe what was in them songs about the Holy Spirit, then I gotsta believe that you White people don't know shit about the Holy Spirit. 'Scuse my french."

"Tell me about that," I said, softly. I really wanted to know.

"Well, where I growd up, we had a name for the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, we call her "Holy Ghost," but mostly the women call her name 'Shekinah'". She pronounced it "Shek-e-NAH". It sounded distinctly Hebraic.

"Lemme tell you about Shekinah," she said, tilting her head back and looking out somewhere beyond the chain link fence that surrounded the church - the one with the barbed wire curled all around the top that had been put up after the 1967 riots that I was trying to get the diocese to take down. Well, at least the barbed wire.

"Oh, she come to you. Sometime when you call her and sometime when you don't. Sometime, she talk all sweet and nice and sometime she knock you upside the head and knock you on your behind so's you can't talk no sense no how. It all depend on how long she been tryin' to get your attention and if you've been mindin' her."

"First thing she do, though, if you haven't already met Jesus, is to introduce you to Him. So, you start listenin' and readin' an learnin', and pretty soon, your life gonna be completely turned upside down."

"That's if you payin' attention," she said. "If you not, then Jesus calls Shekinah back in to start working over your soul."

Shekinah
"Lemme tell you somethin'," she said, "That girl is crazy. CRAZY. You know what I'm sayin'? C.R.A.Z.Y.," she laughed.

"Shekinah will stop at nothin' - absolutely nothin' - to get you right with God.

Jesus will talk and teach, but if you don't be gettin' it, Shekinah will come into your life and slap you silly until you do."

"Now, lemme give you a for instance. Remember Rosa Parks? Yes, chile, I know you do, cuzin' you preached on her jus the other Sunday. And, you preached it, girl. That was good preachin'. I about had a 'glory attack', flat out, jus hearin' a white girl preach so well about one of us."

"So, Rosa Parks is tire. She tire to the bone. Weary in her soul kinda tire. Bus driver say, 'Back a the bus', and she don't wanna. She know it ain't right. She know it cuzin' Jesus tole her so."

"She knowd the teaching of Jesus, but what she gonna do? The White man say, 'Back a the bus' and you know you gotsta do what the White man say do."

"Well, chile, I knowd women like Miz. Parks. She jus roll her eyes and prayed, 'Lawd, gimme strength'. Now, here's the thing," Miz Jefferson said, leaning into me so I would hear her clearly.

"You gotsta be real careful what you pray for wid the Lawd," she chuckled, "because sometimes, you gets jus what you prayed for, and then, your whole life be turned upside down until you got it right with the Lawd."

"Well," she laughed again, "the Lawd done answered her prayer cuz fore you know it, here come Shekinah, big and bad as life. She done took one look at the situation, looked right at that sign that said, 'Whites only' and it caused her to get so mad  cuzin she knew that the Lawd didn't write that sign. White men wrote that sign."

"So Shekinah, she start to breathin' fire and she done blowd that poor woman, Miz Parks, right into that seat that was supposed to be for White peoples only."

"And the rest," she said, as she sat back in her folding chair, "is Civil Right's history."

"Yes, chile," she sighed, "that's the power of Shekinah. That's Holy Ghost power. Jesus will teach you what God wants, but Shekinah shows you the glory of God. And, that glory look like justice."

We were quite for a while as we both let that story swirl around us before the power of it sunk into a deeper place in our souls.

Suddenly, she broke the silence and said, "I tole you that story because I know you know Shekinah. I know you know that Glory power."

"How do you know that, Miz Jefferson," I asked, feeling the tears welling up in my eyes and feeling suddenly naked.

"Huh," she said. "The first day you came to us - June 5th, lass year, I'll never forget it. There you were, wid your skinny White self - no bosom to speak of but you got yourself a decent behind and nice shape to your leg - and all those children and no man in sight 'cept for that other white woman who loves you to death. I said, 'Lawd a mercy, another lamb to the slaughter'."

"And then, you walked from your proper place up there and came down among us - bold as you please and jus like you belonged there - and you said, 'Morning, church.' And, I thought, 'Well, a'right'. And, you preached the gospel that day, girl. You really did. And I turned to Mrs. Smith, who always sits next to me, and I say, 'Well, this girl knows Jesus, but she also knows something about Shekinah."

"How did you know that?" I asked, softly.

"Oh, you gots some learnin' in you, that's for sure. You studied Jesus and you know Jesus. But, who do you think it was put that fire under your feet and made you walk into a church filled with colored people and smile like you was one of us and say, 'Morning, church!"?

"That's Shekinah! Couldna been any body else. Shekinah done messed with you a time or two, hasn't she, Rev?"

"Yes, m'am," I said as a tear rolled down my face.

"Yes, chile, yes. I know. I can see it in your eyes."

"It's good. It's good, you know?" she said as she took my hand. "You've climbed a few mountains in your time. I can see that. And, you've gotten over. You didn't know how you got over, but you got over. And, now I'm gonna tell you how you got over, okay?"

"Yes, m'am," I said, reaching for a napkin.

"Listen. Listen at me, okay? Listen," she said as she leaned in again. "If the mountain was flat, you couldn't climb it."

I stared at her, understanding and yet not quite understanding.

"If the mountain was flat, you couldn't climb it," she repeated. "God makes mountains for us to climb. Jesus teaches us the way to climb the mountain. But, Shekinah, well, Shekinah gives us the strength to climb that mountain."

"You hear me?," she asked, "You get what I'm sayin' to you?"

"Yes, m'am," I said, whipping the tears from my eyes, "Yes, I believe I do."

"Okay, then," she said, rocking herself in the folding chair.

"And, I'm jus sayin' that you ain't gonna learn that about the Holy Spirit from those songs you sing in that church. You understand?"

"Yes, m'am, I said.

We were quiet again for awhile and then, suddenly, Miz Jefferson started to sing
Ev’ry time I feel de spirit, movin’ in my heart, I will pray
O ev’ry time I feel de spirit, movin’ in my heart, I will pray.
A few of the women sitting at the other tables heard her and joined her in the chorus. By the third time, the whole church yard started to sing:
Ev’ry time I feel de spirit, movin’ in my heart, I will pray
O ev’ry time I feel de spirit, movin’ in my heart, I will pray.
Miz Jefferson continued in the 'call and response' style of Negro spirituals:
Upon de mountain my Lord spoke
Out o’ his mouth came fire and smoke
And, then the whole church yard - some 100 people, including me and all the children, joined her in the song:
Ev’ry time I feel de spirit, movin’ in my heart, I will pray
O ev’ry time I feel de spirit, movin’ in my heart, I will pray.
This went on for several verses, some of which I swear she made up right there on the spot. People were laughing and smiling and nodding to each other as if to say, "That was a good one," before joining in on the chorus.

They were clapping their hands and dancing around - sometimes with each other and sometimes all by themselves. To anyone passing by, it must have looked like we had broken into the wine and were all drunk. It was as if Shekinah herself had come to the party.

In fact, I believe she had. Might have been one of the first times the Holy Spirit had actually showed up at that little Episcopal Church.

It was a 'Glory attack', flat out.

And, it was the best - if not, perhaps, the first - Pentecost I ever experienced.  Better than anything in any Episcopal Church I've ever attended.

And, very, very different from anything I ever learned from any hymn in the Episcopal Hymnal I ever sang.

Except, next time you sing, "Breathe on me Breath of God, till I am wholly thine, till all this earthly part of me glows with thy fire divine," just be careful what you are singing.

Shekinah may just show up.  Best to fasten your seat belt, then.  Might not hurt to put on a crash helmet, too.  And, brace yourself for a flat-out 'Glory attack'.

You just never know what might happen next.

As Miz Jefferson says, "Lemme tell you somthin'. That girl is crazy."

33 comments:

Hutch said...

And can I get an "Amen"!

Kirkepiscatoid said...

She's right, Elizabeth. That girl IS crazy...and I have had days I'd like her to get off my ass and bother someone else! LOL

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Hutch

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Kirke - well, that explains why she comes over to bother me.

renzmqt said...

Maria sent me over from Facebook. Wonderful post. Was this the same woman you blogged about a few months back - finding her after all that time? Did you get to see her yet for a visit?

Bex said...

I must be having a glory attack. I'm crying my eyes out...amen.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey there Renz - Thanks. And yes, this is the one and the only Miz Jefferson. I tried to see her a few weeks back but she was feeling "poorly" and not up to having company, so we just chatted by phone. She's an amazing woman.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, Bex, you got to sing when the Spirit say sing and you gotta cry when the Spirit say cry. When that happens, it's a 'Glory Attack'.

Muthah+ said...

I know a few Miz Jefferson's too and they too taught me that that Girl IS Crazy.

Damn, woman, can you tell a story! Preach it. Sistah!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Muthah+, I see you've met Shekinah before, too. ;~).

I think my story telling comes from (1) my grandmother and (2) Doing all those ^&%# verbatims in CPE. (LOL)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Muthah+, I see you've met Shekinah before, too. ;~).

I think my story telling comes from (1) my grandmother and (2) Doing all those ^&%# verbatims in CPE. (LOL)

Kay & Sarah said...

I know Shekinah well. I just didn't know her name.

Elisa said...

Preach girl! Wonderful piece! Thanks to you, to Ms. Jackson and that Crazy Gal!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Kay & Sarah - She goes by lots of names: Shekinah, Ruach, Serendipity, Coincidence, Anonymous . . . . depends on the situation.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Elisa - Thanks. Come back and visit again.

Brian said...

Elizabeth, thanks so much for this! I have been praying for quite some time for God to show me a way out of a very trying work/living situation.

Well, Shekinah visited me this week and my life is truly upside down! I am overwhelmed, deeply frightened, and otherwise all shook up but I feel deeply that God’s hand is in this mess leading me to where I need to be.

Your story (and Ms. Jefferson’s wisdom) helped me to see that amid the tears, the fear, the paranoia, the sadness, and my refusal to act that Shekinah came and lit me on fire and I need not be so afraid. This is what I asked for and needed even if it is not what I would’ve done on my own. The future is murky and dark to me but I put my trust in God. As Ms. Jefferson said, “Jesus will teach me how to climb this mountain”.

God bless you both!

Catharine Phillips said...

Thank you, Elizabeth.
Beautifully told.
I often describe the journey as being dragged behind Jesus (there are rut marks where I*ve allowed myself to be dragged... or sort of allowed...) I think it*s more likely Shekinah who whoops me upside the head...
Blessings!
allwillbewellperiod.blogspot.com

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Brian, Shekinah will give you the strength to climb that mountain. I've got you in prayer, my dear.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks for your kind words, Catharine.

Lay Anglicana said...

Oh, Elizabeth, this is a wonderful post which I am reading in the early hours of Pentecost morning. It is one I am going to want to return to again and again when I need reminding of why we have mountains.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Miz Jefferson's wisdom is amazing, isn't it?

walter said...

Well, Elizabeth, yes I dreamed a dream-the messianic vision for my America of a New African American and Judeo-Christian Gospel. The dream has gone up in fumes and the Shekinah is descending. O Elizabeth how sweet is your tender mercy. Alone from the great height of mountains I decided to take the ultimate coming down. There was no more the gorge of the mountains and all around me were the most fearful elements of the God of Nature. I came down by the Shekina. The landing, even though the great height, has been perfect.

Walter Vitale

SimplySuzi said...

Beautiful, wise, touching story. Thank you, Elizabeth.

Thom said...

Miz Eula is right: You crazy, girl! Thanks for sharing your wisdom on this special day with us.

Daisy said...

Great post Elizabeth, and I agree: That Girl IS Crazy! So impractical! Spreading nutty ideas like compassion and a kingdom of love.

Great post to start this Pentecost day with.

whiteycat said...

Best Pentecost sermon ever! Let's hear it for Shekinah!

whiteycat said...

Best Pentecost sermon ever! Let's hear it for Shekinah!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, Walter, SimplySuzi, Daisy and Whiteycat.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, thanks, Thom, although I seem to have struck a nerve with your friend Brook. Oh, well. Some see what they need/want to see.

susankay said...

Absolutely great. Sitting in amazement that the Shekinah of BCE Jewish mystics visited black women in the South. And, no shit, Wisdom/Spirit/Paraclete is fur shur feminine and unpredictable and totally awe-ful

IT said...

Another keeper for the book.

Suzer said...

In her sermon this Sunday, my pastor related that she was the only (ONLY) white person in her "holy spirit classes" at Duke. She found that both interesting and telling. And now that I've read your post, it reiterates to me that we white folks really need to get a little better acquainted with the Holy Spirit. :)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks for this, Suzer. I got an email on FB the other day from woman who chided me for this calling it racist. She thought using the way Miz Jefferson really talks made it sound disrespectful to people of color. Turns out the poor woman is so angry at TEC, she just can't help slamming everything about TEC, including me. Sigh. I've been praying for Shekinah to visit her.