Baltimore Pentecost

Jn. 20:19-23; Jn. 14:8-17
5/27/07

I had gone down to Baltimore to attend a conference, which would fulfill my annual requirement for continuing education credits. The conference was mundane and perfunctory, although I renewed some old acquaintances.

A little after noon on Thursday I was sitting in Penn Station in Baltimore. The New York Times was spread out before me on the lunch table. I had a two-hour wait for my train.

I looked up and there was a young man standing behind the chair opposite me. He was dressed in a light jacket, work shirt, khaki pants and clean work boots. A backpack was slung over his shoulders. He was clean-shaven but his eyes looked tired.

“You’re a Christian, aren’t you?”

I thought, “Oh, boy here is another panhandler who has spotted my dog collar and is looking for some change.” “Yes, I am.” I replied.

“My parents were Christian. They were killed in an automobile crash when I was fifteen. It sort of messed up my life.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. It must be hard.”

“Yeah. I’ve really been in and out since. I’ve used alcohol and drugs, been in and out of jail. I served three years twice.”

“You’re about twenty-eight, aren’t you?”

“Yeah. I don’t know if there is a God. I don’t know if the Buddhists or Muslims or Christians are right. I just don’t know what to think.”

“Have you been to AA? They talk of a “Higher Being.”

“Yeah,” smirk, I’ve tried it a few times but it don’t help. I mean, should I be a Christian?”

“I don’t know. Smarter men than you and I have struggled with the question of whether or not there is a God. If I were you I would settle on Christianity, since your parents were Christian and you probably were baptized as well. I’d leave it at that and go from there.”

“What are you? A priest or something?”

“Yes, I’m an Episcopal priest.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s one of the denominations, sort of between Roman Catholic and Protestants like Baptists, and Methodists and Congregationalists.”

“I don’t know any of those.”

“No, you probably don’t.”

” I’ve had a really hard time, done some stuff.”

“You are on something now, aren’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“What do you take?”

“Coke, heroin, marijuana, booze.”

“That doesn’t leave much out.”

“No. I guess it doesn’t.”

“I m going to tell you a story, and it is a true one. My brother’s son at age eighteen got into a fight and ended up in downstate Illinois prison. When he came out six years later he could barely talk. He got a job as an automotive mechanic and was in and out of drugs for the next twenty years. He got by on factory jobs and bummed around. He died at age fifty from rectal cancer. It was long, slow and painful. He was tended by his sister. But what was remarkable was that about five years before he died he met a Roman Catholic priest who befriended him. My nephew became a Roman Catholic and he found meaning and direction in his life. When he died he had people who cared about him and he was at peace with much of his life. He died a good death.”

“I suggest that you find a Roman Catholic Church and see if you can find a priest who will listen to you and try to help you. You cannot take care of yourself alone nor deal with your problems and questions alone. You need the support and help of others. You have been trying to do it alone and haven’t gotten very far.”

“Do you have a job?”

“Yes, I work in a restaurant.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I am on my way to see someone. I have some vacation time.”

“Good. You know, you are a good person. Don’t forget that.”

“Yeah. You know, I think the Holy Ghost is here with us.”

Surprised, I looked at him and said, “Well, the Holy Spirit has a sense of humor and sometimes appears when we least expect it, pushing and prodding and moving us along. Do you mind if I say a prayer?”

“Oh God, be with this young man as he continues on his way. Keep him safe and well and free from harm. Guide, guard and protect him. Help him in his questions and in his desire to find meaning and purpose in his life. Be with him as he continues on his journey. This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, our savior. Amen.”

“Thank you,” he said and left.

I sat there a while; it felt as though I had been in a wrinkle of time, a box of a moment. I had heard confession. I had given absolution. I had not considered what I should say, I just spoke. He, in turn, just reacted to my being there.

I thought of how the coming of the Holy Spirit is often announced with great bombast by Pentecostal preachers, or oozed by the self-conscious overly spiritually pietistic. The young man could very well be right. The Holy Spirit does come in the midst of train stations and conversations. It does not immediately cure addiction or despair. But often it brings a life giving moment of grace. For that I give thanks, and I pray for my friend.