Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on me.
The UM Hymnal, No. 393
Stumbling out of the sanctuary, straight to my pastor, I blurted out to him that he had to stop. Just stop, I said, you are killing me. What began really last week with his exit from the sanctuary as his lone voice sang those words, spirit of the loving God, fall afresh on me, we listened as he prayed over and with and for all of us, we were caught up in the sacred bubble he created. The sound of his voice filled the sanctuary and our souls, our broken hearts and grudge-filled lives rising with each note, pitiful offerings to our God. I wasn’t pleased with him last week and let him know about it, I often feel it is my duty as a parishioner to give my feedback after his sermon. He hits too close, he rarely allows me to leave the sanctuary on steady feet clothed in self-righteousness. He doubled down this week, ignoring my assessment.
Maybe other churches were brimming with celebrations of father’s, were examining that special relationship endowed to men and how they bring leadership into the household and show their children how to worship God. Maybe some looked at ways men need to rise up more. Father”s Day is difficult for me, for many women, maybe even men. Wounds from childhood are brought into marriages, are carried into our relationship with God. Absent fathers, dad’s we could never please, those who were cut off from emotions and never managed to share verbally the words we longed to hear, not to mention those who suffered extreme abuse at the hands of fathers, for as many who have great fathers and wonderful memories, still more are left with hurts that make celebrating this day challenging. Many of us put our mask on and head to church, a picnic or steak lunch out planned to celebrate the man in our home now helping to distract, to keep from dislodging our memories wherever we have tucked them, bottled them up. And then he starts preaching and singing and we have no choice but offer our pain up to the Father.
Who preaches on forgiveness on Father’s Day, anyway? I knew I should find something to do in the kitchen as the Praise Band began the first songs. “Forgiven” by Mathew West, a false start, a new song for the band, a couple of missteps that required we really concentrate on the words. Unforgivable, this tugging at my mask. I occupy the front row, a habit from the days Plum sat on the floor around me and played cars and ran to the kneeler in front of the guitarist, gazing with adoration or dancing with abandon. He no longer sits with us, he has an art table in the back where he creates masterpieces from colored paper and pipe cleaners until the call for children’s church. Still our row is established, we sit exposed, in full view of the church. The guitarist tells me he often can’t look at me, my emotions are too strong, but not to move to the back.
During joys and concerns I thanked the fathers in the congregation for being there for the kids, I told them I am watching them, maybe a warning but also in celebration of their day, that they help to heal my woundedness and bring me into relationship with God the Father with their own constant connection with their families and those in the church. I think that is what I said, not eloquently probably. That should have been enough, I participated in the day. I gave up some of my hurt for all to see. Greedy, though this God and this pastor. He still chose to preach. He talked about mercy and forgiveness and nonsense that is entirely too hard to hear when I prefer to stay in my anger. He shared a clip from the movie “Unbroken” describing ridiculous forgiveness freeing a man. He didn’t ask me to forgive, he gave me space to. I notice there is much space around me in the front row.
Leading us in singing the hymn, he invited the women to just listen, to allow only the men to sing it the second time through. We lifted our voices in a cry out for the Spirit and then the sanctuary, the safe place where God meets us grew quite still as each row where a dad a grandfather a man sang the plaintive cry for help for restoration for healing for transformation. I will never hear my father sing those words, I will never know if he ever wanted to be forgiven or if he sought the Spirit to fall onto him. What I know for sure is that I am surrounded by men who stand in his place, who offer me the opportunity to forgive. I heard their cries to the Spirit to be used and knew the Spirit heard because I sobbed, the tears would not stop even after the song ended. The Spirit was not done with me, was transforming my soul as it had used them all to show me a way out of the darkness and into healing. Yes Spirit and this sneaky pastor used this old hymn to create a bubble around me that destroyed my mask, caught my tears and kept me rooted to my seat until I knew that God is bigger than my father and my memories and I had room for forgiveness. I had mercy within me.
Barely able to control my tears, I told this pastor he was killing me. Just stop, I said. Or finish you off, he replied. I realized then that he has no intention of ever letting me reapply my mask. This man is after my soul. He truly knows the Father and is willing to fully celebrate Father’s day with every interaction we have. I plan to write him a strongly worded letter full of my feedback, as soon as I can get my tears back under control. This is no way to conduct church.