What words are able to comfort a crying elderly lady in her darkened room on the third floor of a retirement home?
One of the requirements of my seminary training was serving in two intern-style positions with churches or faith organizations. I served as a chaplain intern at a retirement home for an academic year and my primary responsibility was to regularly visit my designated residents. One of the ladies on my list kept to herself and I never saw her leave her room on her own, and when she was “forced” to go to activities, chapel services, and concerts, she sat in a slumped manner that signaled a deep disinterest with a desire to be left alone.
The first few times I attempted to visit her were met with harsh silence. Each time, after introducing myself, I would ask questions only to receive no response. She sat with either eyes closed or looking down while I asked her about the black and white photographs on her table, where she was from, the weather … anything I could think of. And so it was with great frustration that I sought guidance from my other interns and advisors during one of our daily meetings. After some feedback from the other interns, one of my advisors offered, “instead of focusing on what you want from these encounters, why don’t you focus on what she might need during those moments with you.” I took this advice to heart, but being only a 23-year-old seminary student, I had no idea what an 89-year-old woman, full of life experience, might want during a 20 minute visit. Read More
I vowed to try and so in my next visit I sat in the silence with her. After 10 minutes I asked if I could pray and after receiving a little nod, I began to hesitantly pray as I had no idea where to start. And then suddenly, the words flowed. Words came out of my mouth, but they were not entirely my words. It was the very first time that I truly felt led, guided, and inspired by the Holy Spirit. Although there were no tangible signs (mighty winds, tongues of fire, etc.), I knew the Spirit was present as this little lady and I were connected in a new way. After our prayer she sat quietly for a minute, and then began to slowly cry. I asked if I could sit next to her and hold her hand. She nodded and so for the next 15 minutes we sat in the silence of her dimly lit room holding each other’s hand. For the rest of the year that was the extent of our visits. She would say something here and there, but mostly we sat together, in silence, holding hands.
The book of Acts is filled with interruptions from the Holy Spirit. Not only are these interruptions signs of God’s favor, they also offer clear leadership! In today’s passage, the Holy Spirit offers unmistakable guidance for the church’s mission — Gentile Christians, having been clearly welcomed by God, must now be welcomed fully into the messianic community. The last line of the passage underscores this: “then they invited him to stay for several more days” (10:48). The inclusion of the Gentiles is not a reluctant toleration, rather, it is a full inclusion implying hearing their stories, accepting hospitality, getting to know each other, sharing the same table.[*]
Even today, perhaps even with the same powerful force, the Holy Spirit continues to surprise us with leadership in our awkward attempts to overcome the barriers, challenges, and frustrating aspects of our relationships with one another. God’s Spirit is waiting to connect us – each and every one – if only we would trust in that guidance, grace, and love.
* – Feasting On the Word – A. Katherine Grieb (pages 479-483).