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I’m a bit of a mutt in the faith. It feels important to state that up front as we spend the next several Sundays together. I was raised Lutheran but was not very involved in the life of the church. In fact, my early church experience led me to be functionally agnostic, and through high school and college I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent of the gospel. Thanks be to God, I eventually professed faith in Christ and was discipled by a pastor in the Evangelical Free Church, was later introduced to Reformed theology, joined a United Methodist Church because of a move, and ultimately found my home in the Reformed Church in American in 1999.
Today is Pentecost, the day we celebrate the gift of the promised Holy Spirit. As I ponder again the coming of the Holy Spirit and the way in which the Spirit manifested itself in Acts 2, I am reminded of a Bible study that my spouse, Kathy, and I found ourselves part of back in 1997.
I don’t recall the topic of this particular study, but as was usual with the evening coming to a close, the group began to pray. This was an eclectic gathering of people from our neighborhood. One was a plumber, another an attorney, another an unemployed preacher with roots in the Assemblies of God Church, with a few other people with varied occupational and theological backgrounds sitting around the circle.
As the prayer time ensued, one of the group members began to speak in tongues and everything that I had been taught about prayer went out the window. My eyes were no longer shut, my head no longer bowed, and I locked eyes with Kathy who had apparently forgotten everything she had ever been taught about prayer in her Christian Reformed upbringing, too. We both had a deer-in-the-headlights look on our faces, didn’t hear many of the prayers that were uttered, nor did we really understand what was happening.
We were incredibly uncomfortable and unable to say anything to the group about our discomfort. Slowly we backed away from the Bible study and we moved out of the area a short time later, alleviating the pressure of explaining why we had retreated from the group.
Now, 25 years later, I read Acts 2 and think about that night and I don’t recall a “sound like the rush of a violent wind,” nor did I see “divided tongues, as of fire” resting upon the head of the guy praying – or anyone else for that matter – but I also don’t want to say that the Spirit was not present. What I’ve come to believe theologically is that the Spirit was present in each of these people who had been baptized. What I am most present to today is my lack of wonder and amazement in that moment.
Why were we so uncomfortable? What was triggered in us that not only drew us out of a posture of prayer and into judgment, but why did we withdraw without ever being curious with the guy speaking in tongues?
In a couple of different places in Acts 2, we read words like amazed, astonished, and perplexed. In this cultural moment – in the midst of a global pandemic, racial unrest, and strident political difference — I wonder if you find yourself amazed or astonished by the way the Spirit is revealed in the lives of people you interact with, too?
Throughout the past 18 months, each of us has engaged with fellow followers of Jesus who have said and done things that have likely left us amazed, astonished, and perplexed. If you’re like me, there may be more times when you’ve found yourself perplexed by the their words or actions than you’ve been amazed by the Spirit’s work in their life. And, if you’re like me, you’d rather be curious about those emotions you are feeling and your reaction to those feelings, than to cut off like I did 25 years ago.
I want to be amazed by what I see in another.
I want to see my window of tolerance grow.
In her new book, Try Softer, Aundi Kolber explains the window of tolerance (WOT) as the space between fight/flight (hyperarousal) and freeze (hypoarousal). It is in my window of tolerance that I am able to be curious, relaxed, content, balanced, able to make rational decisions, and to be competent. “When we are in our window, the brain stays integrated with the prefrontal cortex, which allows us to pay compassionate attention to ourselves and to try softer. This is where we want to be,” Kolber writes. It is in the window of tolerance that we are less reactive, more curious, and perhaps more in a position to be amazed.
It takes time. For some, the WOT is pretty small. There are a lot of things that keep us perplexed, stuck, and more reactive than we like. It is both right and good to acknowledge these places and to work through them with a coach or trusted friend – both the good and the hard things. Part of what it means to try softer is to pay attention to what is going on inside of us so that we may move toward being amazed once again.
Said another way, I wonder what would need to happen in us to look on others as if they are doing the best they can with the resources they currently have at their disposal?
Though I know there is still work to be done, I am grateful for the ways I have seen my window of tolerance grow. When I am curious, relaxed, and not feeling threatened, it is easier to stand amazed at what I read from Peter as he preached that beautiful first sermon in Acts 2 while quoting King David, “I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope.” (25-26)
May it be increasingly so.