By Gail Song Bantum
Wade in the water
Wade in the water, children,
Wade in the water
God’s gonna trouble the water. – African American Spiritual
When I first chose this affirmation to write on awhile back, I thought to myself: “This’ll be easy, I’m Pentecostal!” Then, when it came time to write it, I realized what a radical statement the affirmation was making. The church affirming its conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit is radical! It’s radical because in affirming total dependence, the church is confessing and remembering its identity, belonging, and beginning as breathless apart from the Holy Spirit. The church affirming its dependence on the Holy Spirit is radical because in uttering this confession we are also saying that who we are as a body cannot be dictated or defined by what we hope the community will be, but we are bound simply [and complexly] by the fact that we have been called. We have been joined together whether we like or resonate with every person, their story, their theological bent, their Scriptural interpretation, or whatever. Was this not the case for the people of Israel? Because YHWH said, they were. Radical!
As I listen to this song, Wade in the Water, I can’t help but think of a people – whether it’s the people of Israel crossing the Red Sea or the African American slaves escaping to their freedom – who found themselves so desperately in search of life that those whom they were among became family on common mission together. I wonder if this reality of desperation, longing, displaced-ness and perhaps the possibility of death is central to imagining a life of dependence, both personally and communally.
What then does it mean to be dependent on the Holy Spirit?
Being formed in the Pentecostal tradition, I’ve witnessed many miracles over the course of my life within the church: miracles of incredible healing, interpretation of tongues, prophetic words, and so forth. However, nothing has impacted my understanding of the Holy Spirit at work more than hearing about the transition of a small Covenant church here in Seattle called Interbay Covenant Church. In 2007, the congregation of Interbay eventually made the hard decision to “die to themselves” and give all of who they knew themselves to be – their people, their land, their buildings, their identity – over to what is now Quest Church (a neighboring church leasing one of their buildings). Interbay sensed the Holy Spirit asking of them “to die” in order for something new to be birthed through that decision. Radical!
When I imagine the people of Israel desperate to cross the Red Sea; when I recall the history of slaves who would wade in the waters seeking God for their freedom from those who enslaved them; when I hear the story of a small church so desperate to see the Gospel continue to thrive in their community more than holding onto their own identity as a local church, these are the spaces where I witness the beauty of true dependence on the Holy Spirit.
The truth and difficulty in it all, however, is that this kind of conscious dependence must hold the possibility of death alongside the hope of new life. That’s why it’s radical.
Something could die.
Someone might need to give something up.
We might need to acknowledge that we’re wading in waters that only God could trouble.
But there’s hope! The hope found in being confronted by these moments of desperation is in the reminder that we [the body of Christ] belong to someone greater than ourselves, and that the life-giving breath that sustains us each day never derived from us to begin with.