Tag Archives: wonder

A passion: Deaths and wonders

At times last year, my spiritual director must have felt he was riding a bucking bronco when we met. We sold our family home of 25 years, totally rehabbed the new condo, which was probably the most disastrous rehab we ever experienced, then said good-bye to my hired role in Circle of Hope – mostly during a pandemic and an election circus! Maybe my director was fine, but I still feel like I may have hit the dirt a few too many times. Fortunately, I have some rodeo clown friends and a cowboy family to pick me up.

When I drag in, looking a bit dusty and dazed, my director will often respond to one of my stories with, “It’s a ‘passion.’” He does not have a ready definition for what he means by “a passion,” and I am not much for defining spiritual experiences anyway. But I think I might understand what he means more all the time as I experience the little deaths that lead to new life. As I endure the indignities that accompany the joys of transition, my life keeps teaching me. Like Paul says:

And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Cor. 15:30-32)

What Paul is doing is a “passion.” He writes with a passionate heart about risking it all on the hope of resurrection.

Facing death is normal Christian life. It is so wonderful we can face it in the distant future with confidence. Most most of us think we’ll be alive a lot longer, so that confidence is easier and no less comforting for being so. It is also wonderful we can face the “wild beasts” in the present with confidence. That’s usually more difficult and often feels comfort-challenged.

In Paul’s story above, the enigmatic reference to “wild beasts” probably refers to the riot started by the silversmiths in Ephesus who thought Paul’s gospel would wreck their lucrative trade in honor of the religious power, Artemis, who ruled the area. I wish I were more like Paul, but at least I know what it is like to face power struggles with blinded people who think Jesus is no more than an alternative fact, at best. You undoubtedly have such struggles, too, at whatever level you struggle.

In facing what seem to us like death-dealing forces, we are like Jesus being attacked in John 10. His opponents are ready to stone him, and he says, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” I think my director would call that moment “a passion.” In the face of the violent, judgment-wielding world, we speak the truth in love. If we die that day, just a little or for the last time, we do.

The Elements of Holy Communion — Jacques Iselin

The death and wonder in the communion meal

It does not seem accidental that bread and wine are central to how we understand the crucifixion and resurrection this week. They are symbols of transformation. The grapes are crushed and reduced. When they “die” their inner juice and flavor are released. Then in the darkness we wait for them to become new wine. Likewise, simple flour with a little water and salt becomes many variations of bread. Add yeast and the whole lump of dough expands and becomes new. In the transformation into the food that feeds us there is a death of the old and the wonder of the new.

When our own transformation passion is working in us it is a bit more traumatic, isn’t it? It is painful for us to feel crushed, even when we know the newness is being released. And we don’t like being expanded, or stretched, even though it is the process of welcoming that wonderful fullness for which we have been longing all along. And when it comes to being the bread of life with Jesus, that can seem like a bit much.

Last week, when I saw my director, I could not tell if I was stuffing my pain or dampening my wonder. Both actions would be good ways to try to avoid dying that day. Pain reminds us we are going to die – severe SMH. I want to shut pain out. And wonder reminds us of why we don’t want to die – severe FOMO. I want to keep wonder in. Yet I don’t want to wall off my heart. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings,  becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Paul actually said that in Philippians 3, but I say it too.

Our passion in the Holy Week

I don’t want to die. But I certainly want to live. So I always need a Lent to teach me about passion — the Lord’s and mine and ours. I keep learning that living is giving – whether Jesus is about to be stoned, or Paul is fighting wild beasts, or we are facing societal breakdown, or we face all those other breakdowns: mental, physical, and relational. I don’t mean we give because we are afraid to die, although that may be where we start. I mean we give because we know we are alive and will live forever. It isn’t, “If I give I will live.” It is, “I give because I live.” I like living. Giving is living.

This week is all about how dying leads to rising, how living is giving. As my Lenten guide, Alan Jones says:

We are made in the image of God who gives himself away. [We are made in the image of God who gives herself away]. The mystery of that self-giving is what Easter is all about. The closer we get to our destination the closer we are to the crucifixion. Holy Week and Easter are not the only times when we remember God’s Passion for us. They also invite us into our own passion. Lent is a long period of reality-testing that questions our view of ourselves and the world. (In Passion for Pilgrimage: Notes for the Journey Home)

That testing has surely been happening to me. Maybe we have all been experiencing a pandemic-long “lent” that is testing who we are and questioning the world in which we live. If so, maybe a big resurrection is about to dawn. I hope so. The Holy Week calls us to show up and endure the process, especially if we missed the rest of the season!

The situation in the country is giving us lots of opportunity for a reality test. But my experience seems more acute than an assessment of where society should be going. My daily dying won’t be something that works back on me from what is happening in the world.  I’m already happening. Resurrection is already loose in the world. My profound actions will not make it happen. To the contrary, my grapes are being crushed and the yeast of God’s Spirit is expanding me.

Some days I don’t think I can die any more or rise any more. Perhaps when I feel that way my wine is taking some time to ferment and my dough is resting. But by this time in my life, I often know that despair might signal Easter is coming. Ready or not, a resurrection is imminent, as surely as the daffodils are coming up to bloom and, as a church, we keep turning our faces into Spring.

Wonder. We manifest the Spirit.

The first thing that happened to me yesterday in my experience of the body of Christ was sitting around a table with a devoted team having a phone interview with a great guy who wants to be in Shalom House. It was a wonder.

We made a connection around one of our favorite parts of the Bible: Acts 2. His faith got me going! Look at just a couple of lines of the famous account of Pentecost and we’ll get started.

Dali Pentecost wonder
Dali Pentecost

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place….All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

A new community

Christians, in general, put so much emphasis on personal experiences of God that we often miss the fact that the Holy Spirit’s basic work is to form a new community, an alternative culture, a new creation, God’s family business. We are all together and God makes something new happen; that’s how it works.

After the crucifixion and resurrection, the remaining followers of Jesus, the ones who had not scattered never to return, the ones who were not too afraid of the Roman and Jewish opponents to stick with it, were all together waiting for what Jesus had promised. They were praying and hoping for something new. Even though their own families thought they were nuts, they banded together in expectation and faith. The Holy Spirit came upon all of them, as a group, and they all demonstrated the fire.

That’s the blueprint for our church. I know some people are not fired up and are not demonstrating, but that’s all we’ve got. I know some people perpetually live in the house and don’t pay rent, some keep consuming bits of religion instead of owning the store, but they don’t wreck the heart of us. We’re all together, we are filled with the Spirit, our tongues and lives are loosened to demonstrate Jesus or we’re a joke. And we are no joke.

How the Spirit forms the body of Christ

In First Corinthians (well, maybe THAT’S the favorite part of the Bible) the Apostle Paul gives some pretty exhaustive teaching about how the Holy Spirit forms the body of Christ. It all starts with people who are not among the wise in the ways of the world revealing the Spirit’s power, not like slick marketers, but like clay vessels carrying glory. The leaven of the Spirit makes us a particular kind of dough; we are culture where

  • people are sacred not sex objects
  • relationships are spiritually discerned, not just adjudicated by laws
  • real freedom is worked out even while the free are compassionate towards those who can’t handle the radicality
  • people gain strength to discipline themselves for completing the Lord’s mission
  • everyone’s individual gifts are honored as part of the new community, an organism that lives out truth and love
  • we are the resurrected body of Jesus

The Holy Spirit keeps creating a spectacle of grace. I think sometimes when we do our public ceremonies, like sharing in communion or lighting the fifty candles on Pentecost Sunday, we often avert our eyes and let people have a private moment as they eat and drink or light their candle. It is very intimate, and it almost seems embarrassing to have it out there in public. Some people won’t even do it because it makes them afraid to be so noticed. But we should not avert our eyes. We should watch people and pray for them and be one with them as they are doing their acts that symbolize their oneness with us as the body of Christ. We often keep a lot of space to protect people’s autonomy, but I think we should touch each other like we have all been touched by the one Holy Spirit. We are living beyond ourselves. Just like Paul writes to the Corinthian church:


No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

The common good

The Spirit of God fills each of us, but it is for the common good. The Spirit works in each of us, but God is doing His work in the world. One of the best demonstrations of the Spirit we can make to the world is by sticking together: we exist, we share, we love, we are self-consciously the body, we don’t go to Circle we are a Circle of Hope in Jesus Christ. From that base we conduct the family business; the world is like our family farm and we are all important to the harvest.

Our kind of service means that we did not withdraw into a small group and preserve our holiness. We put out a sign on major streets and let people know we’re open for business. We made major financial commitments to buildings, staff, stores, and mission teams. We created maps, plans, disciplines and schedules to keep us pointed in the right direction and relevant to the next person, for whom we exist to touch and incorporate into the body of Christ. A few of us just hang out in what we have built by the fire of the Spirit at work in us. But most of us are manifesting the Spirit for the common good.

The last thing that happened to me in my experience of the body of Christ yesterday was being in a group of men who were asked to share how God was moving them to live as people who claim Jesus as Lord — and they did it. It was a wonder.