Come, Holy Spirit!

Today, I am overflowing.

We were fortunate enough to worship amongst an ELCSA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa) congregation this morning. St. Christopher’s church is a one room church, it’s ceilings stained and broken, white washed walls, bars on all the windows. Caught in the midst of an expansion, the courtyard is littered with bricks and mounds of the rich, red earth that sticks to your shoes as you shuffle through it. Its pews are simple black plastic chairs, facing the front altar, which was richly decorated in candlesticks, in paintings of Christ, and adorned with an exquisite table cloth. We arrived before the rest of the congregation, awkwardly gathered together in two rows, being shepherded by our wonderful new family, the Leiseths. Before long, people started trickling in, filling the seats around us. There were timid hellos and even more timid waves, both from the congregants and the YAGM.

We were unsure and awkward.

Then began the singing. Oh, such singing! During most worship services back home, I find it hard to find and feel the Holy Spirit, a challenging and beautiful exercise. But here, the Holy Spirit flew in through windows, the cracks in the ceiling, the open doorways, ushered in by the melodic praise of St. Christopher’s congregation. We were swept away again and again into the river of varied voices, all raised in praise and absolute adoration. And the dancing and clapping – never before have I experienced worship as celebration. Everything was cause for an, “Amen!”, every pause was to allow for genuine laughter. Every shift in the liturgy was justification for another song. Such authentic, honest-to-goodness, openly expressed emotion – you had no choice but to either join in or be swept away by its pull. I could not keep still, even swaying during the prayers. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know any of the words (or frankly, the tunes), I sang. It didn’t matter that I didn’t look like I belonged, I was welcomed and encouraged. No longer awkward, or at least unaware of it, we were worshiping brothers and sisters welcomed into this vibrant house of God.

I was being called home.

We were asked to sing twice during the service. Both times were met with enthusiastic and polite applause. But two was apparently not enough, and for our encore performance, we sang, “We Are Marching”. Eyes started lighting up, hands started clapping along to our rhythms, bodies rose out of chairs as recognition dawned. In that moment, the Holy Spirit grabbed each and every one of us, wrapped us up in her arms, and threw us into the community. And in the moment when the congregation joined in with us, the Holy Spirit worked his way into each and every voice, weaving ours together until you could not distinguish YAGM from congregant. Then someone in the crowd confidently said, “Zulu!” and we were swept along in the Zulu translation (tip of the hat to past YAGM for teaching us the words). Their smiles grew even larger as our tongues clumsily stumbled over the unfamiliar words. “You are already South African!”, I was told after the service. What began as a simple act of showing our gratitude for being welcomed into worship became the formation of a community, the inclusion of every voice and mind and body. We marched together, both physically and spiritually, and I am forever changed because of it.

Three days into a full year and I am changed. Changed and rocked by the Holy Spirit, by Rev. Mathe, by Shibu, by all the gogos (grandmother in Zulu), and by the smiles and handshakes of so many new family members.

I am overflowing. I am at peace. And I am home.

Come, Holy Spirit!

Anxious and Hopeful

When I began writing this blog post, I found myself waiting. Anxiously waiting. All the signs of a coming migraine had paralyzed me in fear, curled up in my darkened room. I had just gotten home after driving to get the necessary pain killers. The whole way my hand gripped the gear stick, white knuckled. The steady throb hadn’t started, the building pressure behind my eyes and nausea were a long way off, but I was holding onto the gear shift with everything I had. The worst part of my migraines isn’t the migraine itself but the ten or so minutes before hand, when I know the migraine is coming. When I know to expect the pain and being completely helpless to stop it. You can’t do anything but wait for it to hit. Living out the reality of a migraine is never quite as bad as I imagine it to be. The panic of knowing what’s coming and having absolutely no control over it is paralyzing. 

Today I’m leaving. Leaving the familiar, leaving the comfortable, leaving my entire reality. I’m stepping outside of my reality to inhabit the reality of another. As incredible, as awesome, as incomprehensibly wonderful as this experience is and will be, it definitely does not come pain free. Saying good-bye to my family scattered across the country, in Alaska, in Northfield, St. Cloud, Denver, New York, Atlanta, tears me apart. Having to say goodbye to the people I’ve met over the last week of orientation has left me feeling like a dried out husk – the crying isn’t done yet and I honestly don’t know if I have any more in me. And I feel like I should have my hand wrapped around the cosmic gear shift, white knuckled and trembling. We’ve spent the entire past week preparing ourselves for the times when we stumble, when we screw up, planning for the inevitable, planning and waiting for the pain. My imagination has run away with me to the most improbable situations and challenges. And now I find myself waiting again, waiting for the pain. I should be paralyzed. But I’m not.

I am hopeful. Goodbyes are hard because we have such special and wonderful and beautiful people in our lives, because we have bared our hearts to them and they have taken it and simply and wonderfully folded it into their own. Because, for however short a time, we were able to live together, weaving our realities into something greater than we could do on our own. I am blessed to have hard goodbyes. I am hopeful because those relationships will help carry me when I’m dried out, when I only have the husk left. The relationships I have yet to create in my new community will fill me to over flowing. And I am hopeful for that. 

I am hopeful that when I screw up, there will be room for grace. That the God who has dragged me across the Atlantic will be there in the disapproving looks and disappointed shake of a head. I pray that he will be holding my hand when I can’t pick myself up anymore and that he will be there, ready with a hug, when I’m feeling lonely and isolated. 

I am hopeful. And I am ready.

Well. As ready as I can be.