18 year old Jack Rayson won one of this year’s Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. In one of his pieces he depicts a little girl in the future experiencing a global tragedy together with her family. A space ship from Earth carrying humans to settle on Mars overshoots the planet and the humans are lost. It is a cliché at times like this for us to say that everyone remembers where they were at that moment; it’s a moment that affects us all. We think of these things as shared experiences that characterize our common history. But in what ways are they shared experiences and in what ways not? Jack Rayson wanted to tease this out.

He drew upon an experience he had when he was in kindergarten: the World Trade Center towers came down in a terrorist attack. He knew what had happened, but he could not understand why all the adults around him were crying. So now as an 18 year old wunderkind, he writes about a fictional little girl who notices that her reaction to the spaceship missing its mark is different than everyone else’s.

I think we can build on the insight of this 18 year old and safely say that it is not just age that gives us different perspectives on the same experience. We are all formed by our many identities (age, education, culture, the type of home we grew up in, our gender, etc.) not to mention our experience so far in life and how we have made sense of the world. There is a sense in which we can say that we have a shared experience like 911 or the space shuttle disaster, and there is a sense in which our experiences are truly our own.

The Community of Jesus in Desolation

The community that gathered around Jesus in his life-time had a shared experience of his death and his absence. For all it was an experience of what the founder of the Jesuits would call “desolation.[i]” Desolation comes from a Latin word meaning abandonment. It is characterized by anxiety and by depressive symptoms. A lot of “dis” words apply:

Dis-tasteful: appetite is gone

Dis-couraged: heart is gone

Dis-mayed: possibilities are gone

Dis-spirited: without spirit

Dis-enchanted: the song is gone

So we must assume that this is what the followers and friends of Jesus were experiencing when he was gone. At the same time it’s safe to say that the experience was different depending on the person—for instance, for his grieving mother and for the guilt ridden deserter, Peter. Each had his or her own experience of the absence of Jesus.

Our Community in Desolation?

Does this sound familiar? Have we been experiencing some aspects of desolation as a community? We’ve been in a transition ever since we found out that Jessica was going to have another baby and step aside from ministry. We each have had our own reactions to the loss of our associate pastor, and to the search for a new associate pastor. In the ensuing months we have seen heroic activity on the part of many stepping up to do what a family needs to do to carry on. Yet even as many have acted with extra effort and generosity to keep us going, there are still traces here and there of desolation falling off our bodies like a scent.

Dave Ebenhoe at the “Healing our Wounds and Finding the Way Forward” event asked us, “Given that this has been your experience, are you still willing to come together and build community.” And we have. It is evident in our recent attempt to verify our list of members (As of this writing we have 86 members verified with 60 more persons to contact). It is evident from our pledge drive (again, with this number of people having been contacted, we have over $90,000 pledged for this year). Nevertheless, at times, that persistent scent of desolation lingers like yesterday’s cigar smoke. And each person’s story is different. This is not to say the whole community is in desolation all the time; that is simply not true. But to pretend that this transition has not been hard for many folks is simply to, well, pretend. The loss has been a shared experience, but it is also true that each of us has reacted differently, more characteristic of who each of us is as a person.

The Story of Pentecost

In the experience of the community that produced the Fourth Gospel, they were in desolation, but Jesus kept showing up, usually on Sunday when they were experiencing the Eucharist. And every time he spoke a word they became a little stronger. Today he specifically breathes on them, i.e. gives them a kind of artificial resuscitation.

I’ve talked before of the poet of Genesis imagining a God (who has no hands of course) taking his hands metaphorically and fashioning a body from the good earth and breathing life into it—his own life so that the body would thrive.

As we prayerfully climb into this passage tonight and become a part of it, Jesus is taking the drooping body of his disciples, lying down on top of us, listening for a pulse, and breathing his own breath into our bodies to lift us up. (It’s a different take on Pentecost, no?)

Climbing into the Scene

We can do a lot of things for each other, but we cannot do this. How many times I have shared coffee or whatever with you, and I, Frank, have wanted to give you a spirit that would lift you up beyond the desolation you were feeling. I cannot do that. I do not have that kind of power. I cannot give you your taste back, give you the song back, give you your heart back, give you your spirit back, your sense that there are possibilities back…because these things are not mine to give. You have to tell him that you want them back. You have to tell him that you are open to having them back. He wants to revive you.

(For one thing, I am not even experiencing these months the same way that you are exactly. This loss for me is a different kind of loss perhaps than what you are experiencing.) There is only one Orchestra Leader who knows why she has assembled all these different gifts, these different perspectives, these different passions—there is only one Orchestra Leader who can imagine what the finished piece of music is going to sound like. And she is trying to breathe life into us tonight. That is why the Christ is showing up again.

He still wants Clare & Francis to be the place of love and acceptance that it has been from the beginning. Only God can give us the unity we cannot give each other. Communion is a gift.

We have to tell him that our doors are locked, that we’re scared, and that we don’t want this to be the case. God can deal with locked doors, but she will not violate the privacy of your heart. She stands knocking, we have to open the door. We may see light sneaking in from under the door, but to get the full view, we have to open the door.

Allow the Lord to be with you tonight and be open to the music, the heart, the possibilities that God wants to give us for our future. Be open to being revived. Amen?


Sts. Clare & Francis
Saturday, June 10, 2014
Exodus 34:4-6, 8-9
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
John 3:16-18
Homily by Frank Krebs

Photo by Sweetie187 on flickr.com


[i] The first rule for discernment is not to make a decision when in desolation (identified with feelings of anxiety, distrust, desire to manipulate and control, secrecy, etc.), but instead to remember that consolation (identified with feelings of peace, closeness to God, unity, beauty, openness, cooperation, etc.) will return and to wait until that time before making the decision. –Clarence Heller on discernment