Memorial Day & Pentecost

by Samantha E. Lioi

candles - webEvery three years or so, Pentecost Sunday falls on Memorial Day weekend in the U.S.  I think it’s an irony worth exploring each time, but this year I had nothing to say. Maybe I didn’t have words for the gaping grief that attends every encounter I have with combat veterans who are willing to trust a room of well-meaning and mostly clueless civilians with a piece of their experiences. No words for my anger at the logic that we have to wreck human lives—our children’s and other people’s children’s—to be free.  I want to believe a new miracle of Pentecost proportions is always just around the bend, ready to answer the latest of creation’s groanings. Yet, the more I learn of the vast caverns of trauma carried in the chest and brain of every veteran…well, the more I know we need transforming power from on high. And I believe it’s none other than the Spirit of Christ who is opening Mennonites to confessional friendships and partnership with veterans.

The prayer below is adapted from one I wrote and prayed as a gathering in worship on Pentecost 2012, the last time it coincided with Memorial Day. May we face the soul wounds of people we don’t understand, and so find the Holy Breath speaking new life in all of us, a wideness of mercy that cannot be contained.

God of wind and fire,
You for whom no language is foreign—
Creator of every people—Creator of friendship among enemies—
we are here to give you praise.
Thank you for keeping us breathing, tasting, touching, seeing;
thank you for your good creation,
for the soil which gives us food,
for the people who help us feel safe and loved. 
We have come with hope,
and also with doubt that anything will be different.
On this day when you sent wind and fire,
we want to welcome you, however you might come near, but
in our waiting we can find it hard to expect very much.  Surprise us. 
Send your Spirit anyway,
through our locked doors.  We are here –
and you are God, and we are not.
And also, on this day families are gathered with food, remembering
soldiers who were sent into desert wind,
who saw and made and felt another kind of fire.
Breathe again new life in mothers and fathers and children and spouses,
and send your healing Spirit among the wounded of mind and body and spirit in Iraq,
in Afghanistan, in the United States, in Syria, in Pakistan—and send us
to participate in healing wounds of war—
send us to sit in silence, open to hear
the memories that return and return.
Keep bringing your new creation:
trust where there was fear, sharing where there was taking…
and let your fire,
which brought new words to the lips of the waiting disciples,
burn in us and open our ears
to practice listening to strangers, still curious about what you might do.
Holy One, we know we are not at the center of things.
If it were not for your Spirit, we would dry up like cracked earth. 
Send too the renewing rain of your abundant love for every kind of person,
every withering plant and trembling creature. 
We ask this because of Jesus,
with hope
and doubt
and gratitude that you stick with us.  Amen.

Samantha Lioi is the interim pastor at Taftsville Chapel in Taftsville, VT.