Nothing But The Holy Ghost
Some years ago, I had the privilege of attending a workshop at a Christian leadership conference where the speaker was Dr. Cornell West, a professor, author, activist, social critic, actor, and public intellectual.
West focuses his work on race, gender, and class in American society and has been an outspoken advocate for a just and equitable approach to social change and cultural transformation.
West is also the son of a Baptist minister, and his faith definitely informs his work and words. He was one of the most engaging and provocative speakers I've ever had the chance to hear.
When asked about faith's role in his efforts for social change and how his Christian beliefs sustained him in his work, West said something that sent me chills (the good kind) and filled me with palpable energy.
This is what he said:
"I'm still a Christian with gangster proclivities. There ain't nothing but the Holy Ghost holding me together."
As I went over my notes from that conference the other day and read that line, I smiled so broadly that it made my jaw hurt, and my eyes got misty.
I can relate, you see. Sometimes, I feel like there "ain't nothing but the Holy Ghost holding me together," too. And as far as the "gangster proclivities" goes, I get that, too.
The hard edge of my personality might not cross entirely over into the sphere of "gangster," but it comes close sometimes.
I'm guessing I'm not the only person who feels that way.
I think my sweet, late mother gave me a penchant for edginess. She was the kindest person I have ever known and seldom said a bad word about anyone, even people she didn't care for all that much.
But she had an edge to her, too.
I once saw her put a clothespin on our cat's tail and drop the squawling and clawing feline onto the bare chest of my uncle (her brother), who was sleeping on the couch.
I don't know who laughed harder, my mom or me, as my uncle jumped up screaming and revealed the colorful lexicon of curse words he had in him.
And even though no one in our house was allowed to listen to Rock and or Roll music, my mom held on to her Elvis Presley records. I always suspected she liked Elvis more than his music, so there's that.
She'd been through hell as a child, my mother. My grandfather was a mean drunk who more than once threatened to kill my grandmother and all their kids.
My mother repeatedly had to run into the woods behind their house to hide from him when he was in a drunken rage, carrying one baby sister and leading another. Or she would conspire with her siblings to hide all the knives in the house.
You don't come out of that kind of trauma without a hard edge.
Still, despite all of it, my mother never let those "gangster proclivities" affect how she lived and loved. She saw the world as a beautiful place filled with God's glory.
And I'm sure most days she also felt like there wasn't anything holding her together but the Holy Ghost. As it turns out, that was more than enough.
I've come to believe that our edges, even the ones we fear, are where we get to experience just how held together we are by the Spirit.
And those edges can also be a space where we can feel most alive and live more fully if we let the Spirit hold and guide us.
May it be so for you and me, and all of us. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all, now and forever. Amen.