Life was predictably mundane at L.W. Baldwin Elementary School in Paragould, Arkansas, until that day in the 3rd grade when a large and mysterious box arrived in the library. With great show, the librarian opened the package to reveal a gazillionth-scale, table-top model of an atom. It was awesome. The protons were red, the neutrons were blue, and the electrons—each in its distinct, planet-like orbit connected by a wire to the center—were green. After the great unveiling, a science teacher explained to us the parts of the atom. The talk was, as I recall, all about those distinct parts: the red, blue, and green orbs. They, clearly, were what was important.
When I was a child, I found myself at First United Methodist Church in Paragould, Arkansas, virtually every time the doors opened. And whenever my mother volunteered to help with some church activity, I’d sneak away to a little prayer room adjacent to the balcony staircase at the back of the narthex. The room had originally been meant for storage, but some family in the congregation once upon a time paid to have it adorned with carpet, a couple of chairs, and a prayer desk. For some reason, the first time I discovered the little prayer room it conveyed a sense of peace. I returned to it every chance I got. It is the first place I ever prayed, on my own, in the words of my six-year-old heart. It is the first place I considered holy, even before I could articulate a sense of what that word might mean.
On Pentecost Sunday, Christ Church Cathedral and many other congregations across the world will surreptitiously plant readers across the nave, who will stand during the Acts 2 lesson and begin reading loudly in a variety of languages. The intention behind this exercise is twofold. First, it jars congregants into a heightened awareness that something extraordinary happens on Pentecost, namely, the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Second, it attempts to contrive what actually occurred upon the Spirit’s arrival among the followers of Jesus on the first Christian Pentecost. Luke tells us in Acts 2, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”
Feast of the Ascension
Thursday, May 5
The day began in Sepphoris, only four miles from Nazareth. Though never mentioned in scripture, Sepphoris was Herod Antipas’ first Galilean capital. At its height, it was a cosmopolitan center with intersecting paved roads, grand houses, and five thousand residents. As with other cities, Jesus assiduously avoided Sepphoris. Even so, from the top of the Governor’s house in Sepphoris, one can see most of Galilee, with a bird’s-eye view of the land Jesus traversed during his year+ of ministry.
With much anticipation, St. Unction’s Episcopal Church called a new priest. At his first Sunday Eucharist, when it was time for the Prayers of the People, half the congregation stood up and the other half knelt. The half who were standing started yelling at those who were kneeling to stand up, and the ones who were kneeling yelled even more loudly at the ones who were standing to drop to their knees. Then the standing parishioners began singing, “Stand up, stand up for Jesus,” while the kneeling parishioners drowned them out with a chorus of “Let us break bread together on our knees.” The new rector was flabbergasted. He didn’t know what to do. After church, his senior warden suggested he consult the ninety-eight-year-old patriarch of the parish for advice. As the rector drove to the older man’s home, he hoped the patriarch would be able to tell him what the parish’s actual cherished tradition was. When the rector arrived, the older man invited him in and served coffee, while the rector asked, “Is it St. Unction tradition to stand during the Prayers of the People?”