Do Not Pass Me By
"The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."
May 28, 2021, Words By: Shabrae Jackson, Image By: Barbara Zandoval
When I woke up that morning I promised myself “never again.” My heart cannot sustain it. My body cannot sustain it. My soul cannot sustain it. This non-stop movement, constant going, day by day, this making a way.
Come by here, my Lord. Do not pass me by…
The words flowed through me as I drove to the airport wondering if I had enough energy to deal with long lines, work on my flights, adjust to new timezones, train, have meetings, train some more. I was so tired … exhausted, in every way. My planned time of preparation and rest before the trip had been diverted; what I knew that my body would need was now not available to me. I had gone beyond my own emotional capacity.
Come by here, my Lord. Do not pass me by…
I whispered the words to myself as a way to witness my own reality — a new reality marked by brokenness and a drastic transition into a life that I had not planned on. I was at my limit. The hustle of trying to prepare for the next four days felt overwhelming.
I cried out. My lips may have whispered quietly, but my soul shouted for something to be different, to be true. I was asking the Lord to come by here, to draw near to me in the midst of my sorrow.
My pain was accompanied by guilt. I had been looking forward to returning to Tijuana for some time, yet I had imagined that I would “feel” more prepared; I never expected my own life to be at a crisis point — to be navigating my own liminal space.
Ironically, my intense four-day trip was to provide psychosocial trauma support and accompaniment with communities, friends, and partners at the Mexico/US border in Tijuana. There, I heard harrowing stories of journey, exhaustion, hope, and survival. The families who shared their pain with me were vulnerable and their pain was palpable.
As I sat on the street and in small tents with them, I was ushered into a holy stillness. My own sighs and aches found resonance and rhythm with others. Each conversation invoked the Spirit of encounter. I felt the nearness of God in each person’s words and tears. I experienced the holy wind found amongst the families there.
Dr. James Noel* once said that the black church was born out of the moan … the ineffable, the cannot-be-spoken suffering that was stitched together in the belly of a ship — a holy encounter with the Spirit.
The encounter often brings mystery and invitation. You cannot organize it neatly nor control it. It confronts and challenges, it moves and shifts as it chooses. Its hustle is its very own.
Yet it always invites one towards stillness, towards pause — an opportunity to see and hear in a different way.
I cannot help but wonder, in these days between Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, about the mystery of the encounter and how the Spirit moves in the space of waiting.
In John 3, during a deep discussion with Nicodemus, Jesus describes the Spirit like the wind, free to move and go where She desires, something that is beyond human control. Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus is filled with poetic metaphors, complex ideas, and mystery. In the midst of it all, Nicodemus strives to understand this new thing that Jesus is bringing.
And yet, Jesus basically responds with, “If you want to know, you have to relearn everything.” In other words, you have to come to be in a different way. You have to see differently.
I resonate with Nicodemus’ response of confusion. The reality is that I am not always open to such unknown encounters, especially in the hard corners of life. I want to feel like I know where I am going and how I will be. But this does not seem to be the way of the Spirit. Instead, Jesus gives us the invitation to relearn and to see with new eyes — an invitation that I received as I held my own story and the stories of many others.
The invitation to Nicodemus, and to us, is one of encounter. It is an invitation to step into the mystery, even when we don’t have all the answers, especially when we feel raw and vulnerable. For it’s often from that vantage point that we can lean into the unknown known, this mystery of life that Jesus is ushering in by declaring his love for each one of us.
There are many communities whose words, stories, and cries are echoing in the world; they are asking the Lord not to pass them by, but instead “to send the Spirit In the mystery of your wind, in the mystery of your movement, come by here. Come and see about us. Come and help us to see with new eyes.”
This is my cry, made from my own exhausted and unknowing heart. And as I wait, I am looking out for that mysterious wind.
In this week, as we remember the right to breathe, the right to life for those in grief living in the midst of conflict, to the hundreds of communities grieving loss while in wait for a ventilator and a vaccine, to the thousands converging at global borders around the world, to a community marking the death and last breath of George Floyd — may we call on the mystery of the Spirit to come near. And may we step into the mystery, into the encounter, and into the holy communion of fellowship and community — our shared humanity.
Come by here, my Lord. Do not pass us by…
*James A. Noel, “Being, Nothingness and the Signification of Silence in African-American Religious Consciousness” in Black Religion and the Imagination of Matter in the Atlantic World
Dwelling Among Us
In the midst of our spoken and unspoken realities, where might the Spirit be moving? How is the Spirit moving in the space of waiting? And how might we relearn in a new way?