Spirit Alive: Let Me Tell You a Spiritual Secret
Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog that looks at different aspects of mission and ministry throughout the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference and beyond.
May 15, 2018
With Heart, Soul, and Mind:
Something Remarkable Happens
When One's Inner Spirit Comes Alive
"These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 'In the last days, God says, I will pour out My Spirit on all people; your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on My servants, both men and women, I will pour out My Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.'"
Acts 2: 15-17
OK, I've got a personal secret to share.
When I was a young boy, I discovered something that was truly amazing. I couldn't explain it logically. It was beyond words. But, I knew that what I was experiencing touched and transformed something deep inside. You see, for some reason, whenever I listened to the soul-filled songs of Harry Belafonte I found myself so mesmerized by his music that it transported me to a special place and my consciousness was somehow altered. It was as if something transcendent was poured over me. I think it must have been akin to the feeling that took place for the people at Pentecost. I felt a bit drunk in the spirit!
At the time, I didn't have the appropriate words to frame what I was experiencing, but looking back on it now, I realize that something profoundly spiritual...something at the core of my being was touched and it re-calibrated how I approached my day.
When you are filled by the spirit, whether it is through music or deep conversation or your transcendent connection with nature...your inner being changes. I'd venture to say that such experiences open us up to deeper spiritual exploration, because we move from so-called "normalcy"...even complacency with life...to a place of deep spiritual communion. And It isn't an intellectual venture,even though one's brain chemistry has changed. The music I heard might not do the same thing for you, but here's an example of what I'd listen to regularly as a child, click here.
As I entered high school, I remembered this early, formational experience...and how it affected my inner spirit. So I made it a daily practice to listen to a variety of inspiring songs each day before heading off to school (by then I'd moved from Belafonte to the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel, among others). And the same thing seemed to happen. After I listened to the music, I felt like a different person inside!
But if the spiritual life was simply about listening to music, then Jesus would have held music concerts, not been a teacher. And if spirituality was simply about feeling good because of a walk in nature, then park rangers should be our gurus, not a carpenter's son from Nazareth.
Today we are learning a great deal about our brains, and something that is often overlooked is what goes on within our spirits at the same time. Many of you probably know about the research that has been done in recent years with Buddhist meditation and how it changes one's brain chemistry in significant ways. Similar research has been done regarding what happens to us when we watch others involved in acts of compassion. In both cases, our minds are literally changed by what we let inside.
Of course, this can happen in reverse as well when our spirits are consumed by news of violence or by ads that invade our lives with lust, envy, and greed. These things impact us as well.
Who would have guessed that as a young child preparing to face another day, I had stumbled onto something so profound. I was wiring my brain with positive energy that altered who I was, and it changed my consciousness and transformed my life.
And yes...Jesus discovered this long before I did. For him, it obviously wasn't about modern music, but instead it rested in his ability to see and experience the Kin-dom of God wherever he went.
It was as if he had the ability to pour out spirit on others. No wonder, even on the cross, the centurion said, "Truly, this was the Son of God." Even then and there, his spirit was being poured out and felt...and it changed everything and everyone on a spiritual level.
But changing one's brain chemistry can't make everything in life turn out right. It can't prevent bad things from happening. It can't make people like you...or not bully you...or stop ignoring you as a human being...or even prevent you from being harmed. But it does change your inner spirit and ground you in a powerful way that can make a difference in who you are on the inside....what you see on the outside...and who you ultimately become.
So take a moment to do an experiment. I'd like you to listen to some music. Click here...if you'd like to listen to a song that over three million people have enjoyed and that I listen to regularly.
If that one doesn't touch your spirit and transport you someplace, try this one. It has had 53,000,000 views and is a pretty remarkable piece of music as well. Click here to see what I mean.
Or maybe you're familiar with this inspirational song, which has had over 489,000,000 views ,click here...and enjoy.
Is it possible to actually choose some behaviors...whether it is listening to inspiring music...or meditating... or walking in nature and be able to actually change your attitude and even the chemistry in your brain? Scientific evidence is saying that it not only can, but does.
Not too long ago, I went to Mercy Corps in Portland to hear a presentation by Dr.Sarina Saturn, a Professor of Neuroscience at Oregon State University. She shared that recent brain research indicates that even by simply watching others perform acts of service that your own brain chemistry changes. Amazing!
She proceeded to demonstrate this by showing us a video recording of people doing good in the world. Click here to see what we saw. After watching the video, it was clear that the spirit in the room had changed...and people's eyes filled with tears as they said that their spirits felt full and alive.
Much like our own UMCOR work around the world, Mercy Corps reminds us that being in touch with acts of compassion changes who we are, starting with our brains. I think this is why people are changed by Volunteers in Mission projects and other such activities. When we reach out to others, we immerse ourselves in ways that alter our consciousness, and we are changed to the core of our being. It becomes a kind of holy communion without bread and cup..and yet the body and spirit of Christ is present and it consumes and overwhelms us.
Let me close with this story from when I worked at United Way years ago. During that time, I often found myself in meetings that were incredibly creative and delightfully free-wheeling as our team worked to re-design and innovate our way into becoming a new organization that moved away from traditional rules and procedures into new ways of developing partnerships and engaging with the community. It was a delightful time, filled with provocative and dynamic conversations. And I'd venture to say that at times we felt "drunk in the spirit."
One day, when we were asked to give an update on our work to the entire organization, a member of our team began describing one of our meetings...yes, a meeting...and she got so caught up in the description of it that she said at one point, "Our work as a team sometimes feels so amazing that it is almost like making love." What?
No wonder people at the time of Pentecost were confused by what they saw, because what they saw was what we hope people will see in us...that they will know we are Christians by our love. Faith-filled people know that when our minds are renewed and our spirits are filled....love pours out and the world is changed, because love is contagious and spirit ultimately overcomes the material world in the end.
No wonder it can be so confusing ...and even threatening...to those on the outside watching, especially those who have too much personal power, because they go through the motions of life and call it good enough. But what is going on within us longs for something more.
So maybe it's time for us, as people of faith, to become so filled with the spirit that others think we are a bit drunk. When that happens, I guarantee you that it will feel like a Pentecost moment and the church will be re-born in that place. But remember what the author of the Book of Acts says about such moments: when this happens, people will dream dreams, they will see visions of a new future...and the truth will be told in powerful, new ways!
Let us walk in the light of God's love,
Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog and email by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference. It seeks to identify where the spirit is alive in our congregations and communities. Check out past editions, or subscribe to the email list.