Dear Right Reverend J. Jon Bruno,
I pray that you are having a transformative and inspiring Pentecost in sunny Los Angeles. And in the spirit of Pentecost, I hope that this Ember Letter captures some of the energy of my spiritual journey the way an “ember” contains the energy of a fire.
I have been reflecting on today’s second reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, so I decided to use the Apostle’s words to frame my Ember update:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
While in between my Ministry Study Year at St. Alban’s (Albany CA) and my Field Education at St. Clement’s (Berkeley), I have been visiting a variety of different faith communities. From Reformed Jewish synagogues to Tibetan Buddhist monasteries to Tridentine mass churches, I have learned that if variety is the spice of life then the Holy Spirit is full of spice. Although deeply rooted and committed to the Episcopal tradition, I have encountered the Holy Spirit in various religious services and activities beyond the boundaries of Christianity, thus confirming Christ’s words: “The Spirit blows where it pleases” (John 3:8).
To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom…
I have been sitting at the feet of ancient rabbis, to whom the Spirit surely gave the utterance of wisdom. In preparation for a class that I will be co-teaching in the Fall at CDSP, I have been reading Mishnah Avot, a collection of wisdom sayings from rabbis between 200 BCE and 500 CE. The text includes one of my favorite rabbis, Rabbi Hillel, who taught, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” (Mishnah Avot 1:14).
…and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit
A few weeks ago, I attended an academic conference at Iona College in New Rochelle NY, where many knowledgeable professors and students gathered to share their research around the theme of religious violence. I presented a paper that confronted and challenged anti-Jewish readings of John and offered an alternative to Anselm’s theory of penal substitutionary atonement. It was my first time presenting a paper at an academic conference and I felt honored to be among those whom the Spirit has blessed with such knowledge.
…to another faith by the same Spirit
These last few months, I have been deeply encouraged by the faith of my friends, who hold tenaciously to God’s love in the midst of miscarriages, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, financial distress and emotional turmoil. It seems that the Spirit provides pastoral care by bestowing faith.
…to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit
Although my health has been generally copacetic, I have been dealing with borderline high blood pressure for the last few years. About a week ago, I sought healing from a Chinese Herbalist, who treated me with acupuncture, provided me with dietary guidelines and prescribed some bitter herbs. Although the herbs taste like sin, I feel the healing at work already and trust that the Spirit will heal me through her treatment.
…to another the working of miracles
Just a few nights ago, a parishioner from St. Alban’s church invited me to go see Amma, a Hindu spiritual leader known popularly as “The Hugging Saint.” I had the privilege of watching this holy woman hug hundreds of people with her life-changing embrace. (Apparently, she has been known to hug people for 22 hours without a break.) Next time, I hope to experience a hug from this miraculous saint who seems to be in touch with the same Spirit that empowered my Guru, the Rabbi Y’shua of Nazareth.
…to another prophecy
At St. Alban’s, I preached a sermon titled “Zinn and the Art of Cultivating Compassion,” inspired by the late Howard Zinn, an historian, social activist and prophet. Later this summer, I will be practicing Buddhist mindfulness under the guidance of his grandson Will Kabat-Zinn (also the son of popular self-help author Jon Kabat-Zinn). If Will is anything like his grandfather, he will be teaching me about the prophetic power of Buddhist compassion and mindfulness in a world plagued by violence and mindlessness.
…to another the discernment of spirits
During my Spring Break, I stayed at the St. Antony Coptic Orthodox Monastery in the Mojave Desert, where I worshipped long (and early) hours with the monks who are traditionally known as the experts in discerning spirits: the Desert Fathers. I learned that, for them, the “Liturgy” is a sacred time and space where one should expect to see visions of Mary and the Saints and other spirits.
…to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
Later this summer I will learn how to read and do research in French while also brushing up on my Spanish. Just this morning I celebrated Pentecost at La Trinidad Santisima in Richmond CA, where I was reminded of my time with Rev. Gary Bradley at Immanuel Church in El Monte CA.
All these are activated by one and the same Spirit…for in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body– Jews or Greeks, slaves or free– and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
In the midst of all this variety, I continue to find the most effective access to the Spirit in the Baptismal Covenant and in the holy work to which it calls us. These three words (“The Baptismal Covenant”) remind me of the Reverend Robert Anderson, who was one of the first to encourage me to pursue ordination in the LA Diocese. I was very sad to hear of his passing, yet confident that the Spirit has “promoted him to Glory.”
As always, I continue to hold you, Father Michael Battle, and the Church of Our Saviour parish affectionately in my thoughts and prayers.
In Christ’s Love,