It's all right that our language falls short; so do we. And God knows that. He remembers that we are but dust. Still he desires our worship and praise, and still he desires to be our sun and shield and the glory and the lifter of our heads.
This morning in our small, faithful, remnant, basement dwelling windowless church in a broken mostly forgotten little town, the music and the prayers swelled and lifted our congregation heavenwards even as the Holy Spirit descended with a resounding and beautiful power. For just a few moments, I think we all felt suspended, suspended in the beauty and majesty and awe of God's presence. Some people lifted their hands, others bowed their heads, some people wept, a few people, I think, fell to their knees. I've been caught up in moments like this before, but rarely had I felt the intense presence of God with such sharp clarity. It's hard to describe, in part because it passed so quickly, but I had a feeling that if that awareness had lasted just a little longer that my sight, my sense of smell, my hearing, my sense of taste, would all have been sharpened.
How can this happen? I felt genuninely dumbfounded. It's one thing, perhaps, to sense a "thin place" (a place where the earthly and heavenly seem so closely connected that you only need to part through a mist or a thin cloud to cross over) where there is color, light, beauty, inspiring iconography. It's another thing to discover a "thin place" or a thin moment in a utilitarian basement room with pipes on the ceiling and bad lighting, and dirty tiles on the floor. It made me realize anew (and I felt washed in gratitude) that place and time and condition really make no difference. The love of God can descend, can stoop where it will, at all times and in all places, in all seasons. God inhabits the praises of his people.
I can't get the words "descend" and "stoop" out of my mind. We're in Epiphany now, not Christmas, but no matter, the Christmas truths stay good year round, day in and day out. Especially the essential truth of God become man, God descending from heaven to earth to be born in a lowly stable (where no doubt the lighting was bad and the straw stank) and to grow up like we do, in a world of brokenness and sin.
That is love...vast as the ocean.
That is peace. As Henry Vaughan says, in his wonderful poem entitled "Peace":
He is thy gracious Friend
And -- O my soul awake! --
Did in pure love descend
To die here for thy sake.