Across the street from us in the first house I grew up in, one of our neighbors was a retired teacher who was a rock hound. His cellar was filled with all kinds of strange things: rose rocks and hourglass crystals that were native to our state, and other rocks he had found on trips: fossils of fantastic sea creatures from the great inland sea that once covered the Plains, amber that glinted like the truculent eye of the tabby cats that roamed the neighborhood, muddy diamonds from Arkansas that could cut glass.
Myron liked rocks in their natural state, but he also like to make things out of them. There were blocks and columns of basalt that he had turned into bowls and birdbaths. He also had a polishing machine, a rock tumbler shaped like a barrel. He set it to spinning for days as all the rocks clashed around inside for what seemed like forever in a mix of what looked like sand and oil. But at the end, out would come some amazing stones in deep hues of blues, pinks, and greens, with patterns and sparkles that dazzled the eye. Once they were cleaned off, they were amazing. Myron would lean down and show me his prizes, his shock of white hair and thick glasses reminding me of Spencer Tracy. “The colors and patterns were hidden in them all along, throughout time, from the beginnings of creation,” he whispered to me. “We just had to strip away some layers to find them.”
There were some rocks, however, that were truly odd. Perfectly round, but ugly as old gravel on the outside. He handed me one when I looked at it—and a rockhammer. “Break it,” he said. Now, imagine a five-year-old who wasn’t even allowed to use safety scissors due to my two younger siblings in the house being handed a hammer and given the freedom to use it– this absolutely boggled my mind. But Myron wasn’t kidding. “Hit it!” he urged. “Give it a good swat.” And he held it on his workbench and showed me how hard to hit it. And I did. When that rock cracked open, inside there was a thick crust of crystals in purple, blue, and white, arrayed like shark’s teeth all through the interior. He then had me take it out into the yard, and when the sun hit it, that geode practically glowed! Who knew there was such beauty in any of these ugly things?
I remembered this memory as I was thinking about today, Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the Church. We are surrounded by doomsayers foretelling the death of the Church. Even worse, we are given what seems like daily reminders that some corners of the Church are filled with people who, well, don’t often behave in a very Christ-like manner, perhaps partly because all who call themselves members of the Church do not always agree on who exactly Jesus is—and yes, even the choice of the present tense over the past tense is one of the areas of emphasis in which Christians differ. We disagree about who can take communion. We disagree about who can get married. We disagree about who can be baptized, even if they are tiny babies. We disagree about human nature and our ability to be redeemed and how that gets done—and whether it’s possible for everyone. We disagree about who goes to heaven or even if that matters one tiny little bit. Yet we all live under the banner of Christ.
There’s the famous line in the Bible where Jesus tells Peter that he is the rock upon which Jesus will build his Church. Yet I wonder. What if we are actually the rock, and we have allowed ourselves to become calcified as we have misunderstood Christ’s Church as a human institution? What if we allowed the Spirit to cut through our fears and jealousies and failures to break us open again?
Friends, the Church right now has some serious problems, and one of them is this: we members of the Church Universal too often do not allow ourselves to be polished up or broken open by the Spirit of Truth to reveal the beauty within. The Church can be and often is just as ugly as we are, yet it can be and often is just as beautiful as we are, when we remember to let the Spirit in to tumble and polish us and take hold of us and break open our hearts, our minds and our very souls. The Church contains both aspects, but the beauty is there, awaiting revelation, asking us to transform ourselves through the power of the Spirit.
In order to let that beauty through, though, we have to be willing to place ourselves in the hands of that same Spirit who seized those apostles by the hair on that Pentecost day so long ago, and who dragged them out into the streets and set them to babbling, appearing so disreputable that observers thought they were drunk. That same Spirit broke down walls and divisions, reminding us that love cannot be contained. We have to be willing to be broken open, and all that that implies, by the Love that knows no limits which we celebrate as the Holy Trinity, dancing together in love, that calls us into the dance as well, where we can be tossed and tumbled and smoothed and rubbed so that we glow with the inner fire that lies within us.
Being the Body of Christ in the world is not safe. It asks us to open our hearts to the absolute miracle that is grace through being shaped by that same Spirit that seeks to knit us together in love if we can just get over ourselves. That Spirit is at work every time we allow ourselves to be cracked open through the giving and grateful receiving
of kindness and self-control and gentleness and goodness,
of forbearance and joy and peace,
of goodness and faithfulness and gentleness—
all the gifts the Spirit gives to us when we place ourselves at her command. That same Spirit calls us to transform our hearts from jagged, hard, fist-shaped stones into hollowed out bowls, waiting to be filled and overflow with the Love that never dies, never ends, that makes all things new. We proclaim a risen Savior: we ourselves are called to die to ourselves in order to live fully in the kingdom. Can we expect the Church to have to do any less, from time to time?
Some of us have to be tumbled against each other to lose our edges. Some of us need to be smacked with a hammer to be opened up to the joy and transformation that is our inheritance as disciples of Jesus. Sometimes we have to break things open to see what is real and hidden inside. Today, on Pentecost, we are asked not to fear that, or think we know better whether the Spirit continues to move within our lives. The beauty has been hidden in us all along, throughout time, from the beginnings of creation. We just have to strip away some layers to find it.
Come, Holy Spirit—and break us open anew.
Leslie Scoopmire is a retired teacher and postulant for the priesthood in the Diocese of Missouri. She attends Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, MO. She is a member of and musician at the Church of the Holy Communion in University City, Missouri, in the Diocese of Missouri, and tweets daily prayers and news of note @HolyCommUCity. Her blog is Abiding in Hope.
Image: “Geode (quartz inside)” by Philippe Giabbanelli – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons