You can tell when the liturgical season switches, because the church changes its clothes. Its linens and hangings and Rebecca’s stoll all turned red today. It’s Pentecost Sunday. A day when, according to my faith tradition, the Holy Spirit filled up followers of Christ, and they spoke in all tongues, but understood each other.
Ruach, according to Rebecca, is the Hebrew word for spirit, wind and breath. That beautiful synergy of meanings allows us to play with the idea of a divine and creative force that shapes our voice, that fills us up, that gives us life.
This is an idea that is sacred in many cultures and faiths, not just Judaism and Christianity. Think of Kokopelli playing his flute. Or the Greek deity Pan (Faunus in Roman tradition) playing the pipes. Or the Nazca flute player image, embodying life and death, from South American cultures along the coast of Peru.
Today — for me — the focus is on ruach. Already this weekend, I have heard so many kinds of breath. The words of youth who camped and played and hiked and climbed and talked about deep subjects, and then came back to our worship service to share their thoughts from the pulpit. The voices of teens and adults lifted in the song Prayer of the Children written by Kurt Bestor. Rebecca’s voice in word and song, sharing her story-telling with us and then singing a song to conclude her sermon.We heard the chords of the organ pipes played by Joanne McMahon, and the bright mournful cry from Tom Palance’s trumpet playing Taps for our nation’s fallen.
For Memorial Day’s parade, we will hear historic letters read aloud, prayers from the VFW chaplain, tributes from our elected officials. We will hear brass instruments call out their songs; we will hear many instruments played. Guns fired. Engines rumbling. Songs sung. Laments. Laughter. Cheers.
The idea of ruach resonated inside me.
Some days, I feel like I’m the wind. I’m the moving force that calls sound out of silence, that vibrates in the strings and reverberates through the air, both wave and particle, human and sacred. I stir and shake. Cause dissonance and unity, noise and harmony.
Those are my energetic, motivated, busy days. Filled with check-lists and to-do items. Lots of projects and deadlines. Much to accomplish.
Other times, I feel hollow. Carved out like ancient river canyons by rushing waters and tides of time. A vessel through which someone else’s voice and spirit plays. I am sometimes just an emptiness waiting to be filled. Like my daughter’s saxophone, silent until someone’s lips, someone’s breath, someone’s fingers call music from me.
Those are the times when I am exhausted. Overwhelmed. Hurt. Sorrowful. Sad. Low energy, wanting retreat, perhaps seeking isolation or time apart, alone. When I give myself permission to put down my projects and commitments, and sit with the space left behind when energy and connection ebbs away and leaves me empty.
On a long holiday weekend when we celebrate the coming of summer, but also focus on remembering those who have died, I am sometimes one or the other. Not all at the some time. But both states come to me.
We can be both the mover and the stillness waiting to be moved.
We can be the fluid force of breath, wind and spirit. We may be the energy that sets the strings humming, the throat and tongue to shape vowels and consonants from the push of air, that inflates lungs.
We can also be the sealed silence of the drum or the open-mouthed belly of the guitar or the slender length of a pipe. We can be empty chambers holding the potential of sound, of music, of voice just waiting to be set into motion.
I have learned to live … at least most of the time … with this complexity of our human condition. To embrace it. Ourselves moving the world, and ourselves waiting to be moved. All are powerful states of being, shaped by spirit, breath and wind. Ruach.