Back From the Dead:
A Contemporary Pentecost Story
A guest essay by Edwina Gateley. Gateley's journey has led her to teaching in Africa, founding Volunteer Missionary Movement, sojourning in the Sahara Desert, spending nine months of prayer in a trailer in the woods, befriending and ministering to street people and women in prostitution — "God's little ones," and preaching the Good News that God Is With Us. Edwina is a poet, theologian, artist, writer, lay minister, modern-day mystic, prophet, and a single mom. She gives talks, conferences and retreats in the United States, as well as internationally, while continuing to reach out to women in recovery from drugs and prostitution. You can visit her website here.
For Sunday May 19, 2013
Lectionary Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, Year C)
Acts 2:1–21 or Genesis 11:1–9
Psalm 104:24–34, 35b
Romans 8:14–17 or Acts 2:1–21
John 14:8–17, (25–27)
“In the days to come — It is the Lord who speaks — I will pour out my Spirit on human kind…” (Acts 2:17)
I know someone who had a Pentecost experience.
But it was not in an Upper Room — or any kind of room for that matter. It was in a broom closet in a homeless shelter in California. Her name was “Breezy" — a street name she was given because of the speed with which she moved from man to man working as a prostitute on the streets and down the back alleys. Twenty three years of prostitution and drugs had left their mark on Breezy. Her face was scarred, her body battered, and her spirit dead.
The broom closet was her own personal tomb. Breezy huddled within its cramped walls for three days and three nights. She had arrived, exhausted and beaten, to the shelter. It was full. So she crept into the closet where, as time passed, she was forgotten by the stressed out shelter staff. Breezy had given birth three days earlier. Her tiny daughter was born — shuddering and jaundiced from drugs. She was taken away by the hospital emergency staff to be given medical attention and placed for adoption. Breezy staggered off into the night — to the shelter and the broom closet.
On the third day she woke — hungry, and devastated by the memory of the baby she had birthed and lost. In the cramped darkness of the closet Breezy sobbed in shame and horror. Broken and helpless, for the first time in many years, she began to pray. In between her sobs she asked for forgiveness from God — and from her baby.
And something happened.
Maybe it was like a stone being rolled away.
Maybe it was like a dense darkness being pierced by a brilliant light.
Maybe it was a Pentecostal experience — a breaking through of energy and fire into a dead soul.
But something happened. And it was so powerful that Breezy crept out of the broom closet — determined to find her way home to Chicago and to live a different life.
And she did.
She sought counseling and healing and entered a program of recovery. It was a long and painful process — letting go, forever, of 23 years of violence, drugs and prostitution.
There had to be some sort of funeral for Breezy — for the woman she had been and the only woman she knew. So the staff and residents of the recovery program gathered in their small garden, and, standing in a circle, they dug a hole, placed a stone within it and bade farewell to Breezy — prostitute, addict and convicted felon. Breezy was buried.
And in that simple and symbolic ritual, Brenda was born. Claiming her birth name, she came into the dawn of a new life. It was to be a life of the Spirit. It was to be a life led by God where Brenda would become a healer of those broken and battered — as she had once been.
The Epistle to the Romans tells us we are all children of God and we have all been given the gift of the Spirit. But, maybe, we first have to know what it is to be utterly broken before we can become truly conscious of the power of the healing Spirit of God. One way or another, we are all a little dead. Life does that to us as we falter and become weary on the journey.
Few of us experience the drama and devastation of Brenda’s life — but we need to hear about it as a contemporary Pentecostal story. We also need to hear about it that we might be affirmed and encouraged in our own struggles to be faithful children of God — gifted with the Holy Spirit — no matter how deeply repressed and hidden within us.
Brenda did not simply have a Pentecostal experience — she went on to live a Resurrection life dedicated to her sisters on the streets prostituting, addicted and soul dead. Brenda’s healing presence is powerful because she knows all about tombs and dying. She was dead. And now she is alive. She was lost and now she is found. And no one, ever again, can deprive her of the inner dignity and joy of knowing who she is the daughter of God and sister of Jesus - the One who declared to the gathering of fearful disciples:
“Whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do, and even greater works.” (John 14: 12)
And so, on many nights, on the dark streets of Chicago when most of us are sleeping, the voice of Brenda can be heard echoing the words of Jesus, and declaring to her sisters: “Come, there is life, there is hope outside this darkness — come.”
And they do. As we must too.
Image credits: (1) Biblia Online; (2) Textweek.com; and (3) ChurchForum.org.