- BEAUTY FROM ASHES
*The title for this day came from an early-morning experience of picking up trash. Neighboring dogs had come on to the property of the home where we are staying and ripped open two bags of trash during the night. As I helped to pick it up, I happened to glance at the morning sky and saw a brilliant moon above the clouds. I had to point it out. It stood in such stark contrast to the task in front of us. The phrase “beauty from ashes” came back to me, and it framed my day. God never leaves anything lifeless, and there never is truly an end with God. In fact, out of those things which we call “endings,” God always creates beautiful beginnings.
I do not typically receive well; I would much rather give. But when the giver is an eight-year old girl who speaks a different language and who has worked her way into my heart, I have no choice. As I have spent time in prayer this week, my perspective has been adjusted. It was not me, I have learned, who has been giving. But God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, has been pouring back into me. The people and children of Honduras have again received me in love. In other words, they have been giving to me all along.
I truly believe that I saw the Holy Spirit clearly embodied and guiding me today. I am not an expert on the Holy Spirit by any means. In fact I grew up in an experience that left the Holy Spirit as an unknown member of the Trinity – a mystery – like the family member you have never met. As a result, I began my faith walk with much head knowledge but little sense of how I should navigate the moments of the day other than by rote obedience. And I know that the Spirit resides in us, but rarely have I experienced or seen it so clearly as I did today. The groundwork for today was laid during my flight out of Detroit. Once away from the noise, the to-do lists, the tasks, the pace of life, I heard the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to me – from behind me. When I posed the question about the Spirit’s location, I was reminded that I often attempt to forge ahead in front of the Spirit. When I would be willing to allow the Spirit to lead, then I would hear the Spirit in front of me.
Then comes the sixth day of the trip: a three-hour bus trip – one-way – to explore caves with the 3rd graders. I walked past a few students who called out “Aqui!” (“Here!”) as they offered me the seat next to them and I chose one in the middle of the bus. Immediately Alexa moved up several seats to sit behind me. Alexa and her friend Nancy, found a place close to my heart during the first trip. I had intentionally set out to play on the playground at the park on a field trip, knowing that I would be navigating the waters of the Spanish language without a translator. Alexa and Nancy were able to communicate enough to me and I was able to understand enough that they could take me all around the playground in a time of joyful play. This trip has been a joyful reunion with both of them, but I had made the mistake of thinking that I might be the one with something to offer, until today. Consider the ways that Alexa showed care for me today, and the way that I could “swim” with the Spirit today:
*She offered me a piece of her gum, just as I had done for her the day before.
*She assisted me as we were reading from the Gospel of John in Spanish.
*She helped hold the cross as we made a lanyard craft together.
*She offered me part of her snack, and then again, telling me that I could finish the second snack.
*She made sure that I came off the bus when we stopped for the restrooms.
*She held my water bottle for me.
*She made sure that I put my camera back in the bag when I was finished.
*She asked me if I was tired, and, when I said “A little,” she told me to go to sleep.
*She held my hand on her shoulders when it was time for a group photo.
*She held my hand as we entered the caves.
*She grabbed on to me when she had fear inside of the cave.
*She reminded me of the instruction not to touch the formations of the cave.
*When we discovered that the wet railings left a bad smell on our hands, she would not let me touch the railing anymore and made me put my hand down by my side.
*She brought my hand to feel her heartbeat inside the cave when it was beating fast from fear.
*When I tried to sneak my phone out to record how precious her voice sounded inside the cave, she noticed it in my hand and offered to carry it for me.
*She hugged me tight and said, “Douglas. Te quiero mucho.”
*She offered me part of the lunch she was sharing with her sister – it was delicious.
*When a translator asked Alexa if she remembered me from the first trip, her sister’s answer was, “How could she forget?”
*When playing a game that involves holding your partner’s hand, she brought me over to stand in the shade.
*When we had played the game for a minute, she made me turn so that I was “all the way” in the shade.
*She offered me the first choice of the lanyards we had made.
*She asked me on the return trip if I was tired. When I said that I was, she told me to go to sleep. When I had been resting my head on the back of the bus seat for a few minutes, she told me to lift my head so that she could place her jacket underneath it.
All of that, as just a part of the day, certainly points to a caring and loving eight-year old. But it was one moment inside of the cave that crystallized the experience of the Spirit for me. Alexa was certain to hold my hand the entire time we walked the 350 meters of the tour. In one narrow part of the cave’s path back outside, there was only room for one of us at a time. As we descended the dark, slippery steps of the cave, Alexa went forward and held her hand high as I followed behind her. It brought back to me the words of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of the trip, “When you are ready for me to lead, I will speak from in front of you. I will lead you.” That is exactly what happened with Alexa.
I have often sensed the Spirit in ways that remind me of swimming. I cannot swim. But to “swim with the Spirit,” you need to let your feet leave the ground. You need to go with the current or you will fight against it. I have found so much beauty in water, especially in the last few years, and yet I cannot swim. But in many ways, I just did. Alexa, if you ever have the chance to read this, I did not understand so much of the words that you said. I understood everything that you did. Swimming with the Spirit is not a matter of knowing everything that is happening around you. In fact, if you are feeling quite certain of your surroundings and your place, you are probably standing still in the desert. But if your feet leave the ground, if you feel guided and cared for, if you feel love and safety, and closeness in spite of distance, you are probably swimming with the Spirit.
Alexa’s sister, who attended the trip with us and led the students in songs, games, and crafts nearly the entire time, asked me if I wanted the phone number to be able to speak with Alexa. I will be glad to do that, but I would need significant work on my Spanish. The truth is, most of what I know about Alexa is from simply being around her. It is from everything she did and from her ever-present smile. I know about Alexa from her hugs (she asked how to say – in English – “I like hugs”) and her care for me – the one who expected to be the caregiver. The same is true of the Spirit. Even before you understand the language of the Spirit, you will know about the Spirit by just being present. Be with the Spirit. Learning how to swim will take time – your time, intentionally given. Today I asked in prayer that my ears would be open to understand Alexa. The answer given was “You will; you’ll see.” What I did not realize was that I was praying to understand the Spirit. And I will, with time. Make that your prayer today – to hear and to know the Spirit as your Comforter and Guide, your Counselor and Friend. Let the ending of yourself be a beautiful beginning to a new life with the Spirit. Beauty from ashes.