Breath of God

When I first met Linda, she was sitting on the steps of the church surrounded by garbage. She was singing, and yelling incoherently at everybody and nobody, to anybody who would listen. She told me that I was a handsome man, that she was opening a crafting store in Walmart, and that she had to get to the bank and let them know to freeze her friends checking account. I gave her a bottle of water and invited her to the community dinner. Now she is a regular guest! It’s always exciting when she attends. Linda’s presence creates the full spectrum of joy, grief, and chaos. She is a tornado of song and soliloquy, spilling coffee on herself as she hugs and thanks me for being kind to her. One of the things I love about Linda is the way she is simultaneously organized and disorganized. In the span of three minutes, I have seen her eat a meal, change her clothes, put on a blue wig, and speed walk halfway down the block, yelling and screaming at everybody, nobody, and anyone who would listen. One night I saw her across the street making her way towards the meal. When she saw me, she yelled. “I am on my way pastor.” It means something to Linda to have a pastor stand in the rain by the bus stop, serve a delicious meal, share Scripture, and pray. It’s healing to be invited, welcomed, and received. When Linda arrives so does the kingdom of God.

On Mother’s Day Linda came to the Sunday morning church service at All Pilgrims Church. She is a member of this radically hospitable group and like me, and everyone else who regularly attends, has her own laminated name tag. At one point in the service, Linda stands up and declares a blessing for all the mothers. Her voice moves in and out of a modified Shakespearean accent and it feels more appropriate than disruptive. During the prayer time before communion, I feel someone blowing on the back of my neck. I look up and Linda is behind me smiling. I give her a hug and ask her how she is doing. She answers, “better now that you see me!” I am reminded of all the times in the Bible God breathes life into his people. Filling our gasping and panting souls with the fresh wind of his craetive Spirit. “Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being (Genesis 2:7 NRSV).”

After church, Linda asks if she can help serve at the dinner. When my wife and daughter respond with a hearty yes, Linda breaks down in tears, thankful to be welcomed and included. Leaving church, I wonder how realistic it is for Linda to show up and help. I worry about all the possible scenarios that could present themselves. What if Linda is drunk and I have to tell her not to throw hot coffee on someone that makes her mad. While I am walking to my car spiraling into doom, a bird poops on my neck, a humbling reminder of God’s care for creature’s big and small. A gross and gentle reminder not to worry or take myself too seriously. “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they (Matthew 6:26).”

It’s Monday and I am setting up the community dinner church. It’s a record ninety degrees and Linda shows up on time ready to help. Her friend threw up yesterday from the heat and I suggest   that they both sit in the shade and drink some water. As we get closer to starting, Linda and I discuss the possibility of her serving next week when it’s not so hot. She agrees and I tell her that the community dinner believes that sitting at the table, sharing a meal, and talking with people is also a volunteer role. In fact, it may be the most important and meaningful way to serve. Linda smiles and loves this idea. She is calm and peaceful, knowing that she is invited, welcomed, and received. I give the Christ story about the ascension of Jesus and pray about his promise of hope. I ask God to breathe understanding and life into us all and marvel at how our heavenly Father feeds us. How he reveals himself through the flesh and blood reality of his scars. Through sharing his broken body and breath. How we recognize him when we eat together. “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him (Luke 24:30-31a).” Linda, you are on your way!

Michael Cox

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