By Marjorie George
We were a small group – maybe 12 of us – gathered for Maundy Thursday evening worship. We are a relatively new congregation with a young membership, and the simplicity of our worship space suits us. Unadorned limestone rock walls. Clear glass windows that offer views of the Texas landscape. Casual but not irreverent surroundings. This evening we gathered in the front two rows of chairs for prayers, a homily, and foot washing.
The two youngish priests wore black cassocks, adding solemnity. They explained what would happen during the foot-washing, pointing out the straight-backed chair and the tub of water at the foot of the altar steps. A stack of fluffy towels was nearby. One of the priests fetched a kneeling pillow and set it on the floor in front of the chair. Everything was ready.
No one moved. For several moments.
Then one of the priests picked up a little boy, a three-year-old, and said, “Casey may I wash your feet?” Casey looked wary but did not object. Casey is normally not the adventuresome sort; he likes to have mommy in his eyesight. We all held our collective breath as the priest sat Casey in the chair and proceeded to slowly and gently remove his little sneakers, then his socks. Casey said not a word; the priest talked to him quietly, confidently, continually.
We all leaned forward in our seats.
On his knees in front of the chair, the priest dipped his hand into the tub of water, cupping water and pouring it over Casey’s feet. He did it again. And again. Casey was enthralled; he watched intently every move. He did not smile, but neither did he fidget.
Gently the priest dried Casey’s feet. Now all was silence. Candles flickered. We knew we were partaking of a holy moment.
Then the priest lifted Casey from the chair, set him on the floor, and off Casey ran, barefoot, toward his parents. “Mommy,” he shouted, “I got my feet washed. Just like Jesus.”
It was Pentecost on Maundy Thursday.
We celebrate the day of Pentecost – the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Church – 50 days after Christ’s resurrection. But the Holy Spirit is not captive to any man-made calendar. He comes to people gathered in large crowds and to a small band of followers who don’t even know what they are doing. He descends on quiet worship spaces in simple settings and on magnificent cathedrals. He shows up in joyous times and at times of deep somberness.
He comes bidden and unbidden, expected and unexpected, recognized or not. We few were privileged to a first-hand encounter with holiness that evening. And we knew it.
This issue of Reflections makes an attempt to communicate about the Holy Spirit. But no such effort can be complete, for the spirit is not of material nature. He cannot be adequately described or fully defined. The Holy Spirit can only be experienced, and the retelling of any holy moment is necessarily limited by human language.
Our part is to keep watch, to tell the story no matter how feebly, and to invite others into the experience. That’s what the spiritual life is made of.
Marjorie George is editor of ReflctionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at Marjorie.firstname.lastname@example.org
This article first appeared in the Spring/Summer 2013 edition of Reflections magazine. To read the entire issue, click here.