“How Is It with Your Spirit?”

So much is happening. How is it with your spirit? As the masks come off, I hear a variety of responses—happiness and wariness, relief and stress. This very day, our bodies are groaning in this unseasonable heat, even as thousands gather up north as “Treaty People” to address the climate crisis, and to restore right relationship with the earth and with each other. At the same time, children are being shot to death while jumping on trampolines and eating Happy Meals in the car. Scanning the news one morning this past week, I broke down and cried as I read this terrible sentence: “She was in Kindergarten at Cityview School when she died.” And this week, we have also received the heartbreaking testimony of the remains of 215 children, tortured and murdered by church and state, at Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. The painful evidence of white supremacy’s harm clashes mightily with the actions of Minneapolis city leaders at George Floyd square, who, rather than stay with the slow process of truth and healing, are pitting community members against each other in an attempt to clean up and move on.

I’m thinking of these summer months as an extended Pentecost. Our worship will focus on the Spirit. In my view, our spirits are the essence of who we are, the deeper part of each of us. Our spirits are the instruments in us that receive and conduct the energy, inspiration, and power of God’s Holy Spirit. Just as in the first Pentecost event, fires of destruction and creation are blazing among us. Powerful winds of change are roaring through our lives. New languages, new cultural learnings, new visions of community, are on our lips and in our dreams.

This summer, we’ll also be delving into Paul’s musings about the Spirit in Romans Chapter 8. I am hoping to read this chapter not so much as a theological treatise, but more like poetry, with a sense of playfulness and curiosity. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” The law of the Spirit of life, hmm. Is this supposed to be contradictory? Spirit sounds flowing and flexible. Law sounds rigid and restrictive. Paul was Jewish and the law in Judaism offers concrete guidance, clear dos and don’ts for living the good life, a life that is satisfying, beautiful, and just. So maybe Paul is nudging us to be creative, to draw on the best of both worlds, to combine freedom and discipline. Perhaps the law of the spirit of life is a structure, a rhythm, or a sense of intentionality that we construct for ourselves, using Jesus as an inspiration and a model, rather than an uncompromising norm. Perhaps this law represents the commitments we make that allow us to perceive Spirit, that give us access to the flow of Spirit, that prepare us to live in tune with Spirit. Living this way, the law is not something laid upon us as a burden from outside. It is not a source shame or condemnation. It is an invitation to the truest kind of freedom.

There are many ways to get in tune with spirit. Being still is one way. Moving around is another. With fascination, I read an interview with dancer and choreographer DejaJoelle, about the presentation she curated for the Walker called “Body Prayers.” DejaJoelle says that the vision of body prayers “is to celebrate, acknowledge, and centralize BIPOC choreographers who help fortify the Twin Cities dance ecosystem by refusing to wither in the face of oppression and injustice.”[1]

Asked by the interviewer what she means by “body prayers,” she said:

With our daily practices, whether it be raising your arm above your head walking down the stairs or doing a full-blown choreography, it is a prayer, it is a practice, it is an energy, it is a manifestation. So the question is, what are you asking for? What are you praying for? What are you manifesting with your body? . . . There’s something that I’ve created called the thought orbit, and it helps me kind of put in perspective—the things that I’m praying for and understanding that my thoughts create the seed. The seed is hosted by my body which gives it a vibration, which makes it a manifestation, which means I’m using my energy as a magnet to pull my best-case scenario closer to me.

As a choreographer oftentimes I have an idea in mind I want to comment on. I want to evoke thought. Who do you think prays for you to bring you to this exact moment? That question is very important for me because I think about what are the prayers that they’re putting in the air for others? And what does it feel like to be prayed for? It’s much different once you understand that you’re prayed for. Someone is supporting you, someone’s loving you and someone is also wanting your best-case scenario to be right in your lap. I want us all to move that way, knowing that we’re supported and guided.[2]

This body prayer has power. It changes things when we manifest our hopes for ourselves and each other, in our way of moving through the world. That is the sort of spirit-power Jesus carried in his body. As today’s passage opens, Jesus’ popularity is clear. The crowd that gathers around him is thick and intense. There’s no space or time for Jesus and his disciples to take care of their own basic needs. Jesus’ family believes he’s out of his mind, he’s in danger, and perhaps he’s a danger to others. They drag him away. The religious authorities recognize Jesus’ power but they see it as fraudulent; they believe it comes from a place that is illegitimate, destructive, evil. Jesus calls out the absurdity of this idea. His ministry is one of healing, liberating, and giving life: how can these good things come from a devilish source? He tells a deceptively simple little parable that actually describes his core mission in the Gospel of Mark. “But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.”

In other words, there is a strength in Jesus that is stronger than the forces that hold creation captive—stronger than sickness, hunger, poverty, and inequality. The strong man represents those who benefit from systems of oppression that diminish dignity and destroy health. Jesus’ family, and the religious leaders, for a variety of reasons, have aligned themselves with these tyrannical powers. And now they are trying to lure Jesus into the same trap. Jesus resists their misguided attempts to influence him. He announces his intention to bind up the strong man, to render him powerless. Not through violence, but through strength of spirit, through his commitment to the law of the spirit of life, Jesus will take back what the strong man has stolen; he will share what the strong man has hoarded; he will free everyone, even the strong man, from the grasp of fear and greed.

As DejaJoelle says, “When I think about revolution, I don’t only think about revolt, resist and rupture. I think about revolution as in a circle. How do we change the revolution so the next revolution doesn’t look the same? What went around doesn’t have to come back around.”

At a time like this our spirits need attention. I don’t know about you, but often I have no idea how it is with my own spirit unless I make the time to sit, or move, with the intention of cultivating some interior silence. When I’m moving too fast, when I’m pulled in too many directions, when stress mounts and exhaustion sets in, I find myself overtaken by a disembodied feeling, a sense of being disconnected from myself, from others, and from the larger world. If I have been away from the well of spirit for a while, it may take many days for me to catch up with myself again. Recovering my center, reconnecting with spirit, doesn’t solve all problems or erase all pains. It does help me to be present, find strength, and to discern the next steps in these complicated times. Amen.

[1] https://walkerart.org/calendar/2021/body-prayers-choreographers-evening-special-edition

[2] Star Tribune, June 4, 2021, Sheila Regan