May 19 was the Feast of Pentecost, which marks the end of the Great Fifty Days of Easter and the descent of the Holy Spirit among us, life continuing on the other side of the Cross. You can read all about it. It’s been one of my favorite feasts of the church year ever since my husband and I attended Grace Memorial for the very first time. It was Pentecost, 1997, and the youth group created the rushing wind described in Acts 2 by running up and down the aisles holding opposite ends of an enormous banner that flew over–barely–the heads of all of us in the pews.
This year, I’m on sabbatical (into Week 3) and had a rare opportunity to get up on Sunday morning and worship wherever I wanted. I had many wonderful options and spent several days weighing them. The result? I went to the gym. This is something I do almost every Sunday before church, but my sabbatical celebration this week was to sleep in, drink tea in bed, and get to the gym right around the time someone was about to proclaim the Pentecost Gospel at Saint David’s. What I found was that the gym feels different at 10:30 on a Sunday morning than it does at 7:00. For one thing, there are more people. Lots and lots of them with yoga mats tucked under their arms. People working out in pairs, twos and threes, not just muscle-men who take turns being the spotter and the grunter and otherwise hardly speak, but dyads and triads of friends and couples, having fun together, visiting and laughing. The church of gym, a communion if ever there was one. I was glad to see everyone having such a great time, and glad for my ear-buds which provide solitude in the midst of community.
(The day before, I’d spent seven hours in a 12×12 room with 16 other people, talking. We called it a “retreat.” The people are wonderful and the conversation memorable and worthwhile, but a retreat it wasn’t. I–the extrovert–came away exhausted, wanting to tear my hair out and shout, like Liza Doolittle: Words, words, words!)
It was odd to go through Pentecost Sunday without any of the traditional things we do on Pentecost: proclaim the gospel or sing in other languages, wear tongues-of-fire red, or eat church birthday cupcakes. Instead, I spent the day looking forward to getting away from it all. That seems incongruous, to me. Pentecost is a community celebration if ever there was one, if only because for many churchgoers, it is the equivalent to the last day of school and the beginning of summer vacation.
What my intense eagerness for solitude has to do with Pentecost, I’ve decided, is that just as Pentecost is all about breaking barriers between people in order to establish communities of Jesus-followers imbued with the power of the Spirit, so can solitude, and time away from traditional forms of worship be a form of breaking barriers and crossing boundaries. Especially for a church-lady-extrovert like me. I’ll let you know how it goes.