Some years ago while we were celebrating an evening Liturgy in church, paper notices were placed on our car windshields in the parking lot by people unknown. The notices informed us in no uncertain terms that we were no longer true "Catholics" since what we were doing at Jesus Our Shepherd was "outside the box" of Catholic beliefs and practices. I can't remember a truer comment: We are a community 'outside the box!' If I remember correctly, wasn't Jesus the One who lived and taught "outside the box? Didn't He turn people upside-down, topsy-turvy, inside-out by his words and actions? Didn't His life and teachings upset the power of religious and political leaders? No one was ever more outside the box than Jesus.
I'm not against boxes. On the contrary, here's a box! It can contain, organize, protect things. It's useful for mailings or for storing things in attics or basements. Here's something else about a box: you're either inside the box or you're outside the box; there's no half-in, half-out. My point is: a box serves many purposes, but putting yourself and your faith into a box isn't one of them. A box cannot contain someone's faith. You cannot put hope, joy, love, courage, creativity, imagination : any of the marvelous gifts of the Spirit neatly into a box of any size.
Today is the feast of Pentecost : the day we celebrate the coming of God's Spirit into our lives. Throughout Scripture, this Spirit appears to us as fire, wind or dove : the first two of which, fire and wind, appear powerfully in today's Scripture reading. After Jesus' departure, his followers were, in a sense, "boxed" in the upper room, not knowing what to do. They were frightened. They were anxious. They were clueless about the future until the Spirit came to free them from their self-imposed 'box.' It's interesting to note that none of the three Scriptural symbols of the Spirit can exist in a box. Fire in a box will either destroy the box or die from lack of oxygen. Wind cannot exist in a box, for the air inside the box is stale and stagnant. A dove is at home in the open sky; it cannot fly or even live for long in a box. No box can hold the Spirit of God. So if we allow ourselves to be "boxed in" by religious leaders, by policies, regulations and decisions that exclude and condemn, we are no longer the 'people of God.' We are no longer living as Jesus' followers. We are no longer temples of the Spirit, for the Spirit is not in the box. The Spirit is outside the box : in our minds, in our hearts, in our lives, in our loving relationships with others, in our thankful responses to God's graces and blessings.
The words of the poet Edward Markham come to mind as he makes the same point by using circles rather than boxes:
"They drew a circle that shut us out : heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and we had the will to win. We drew a circle that took them in." So we hold no grudges against the people who put those notices on our car windows that evening long ago, though we are sorry they believe being in a box is a good thing.
Let's use boxes for keeping records, for mailing packages and maybe even for sharing donuts on occasion. But let's use our hearts and imaginations to keep the Spirit of God : the fire, the wind, the dove : alive within us : outside the box!