At some point in my childhood, I was given a Good News Bible. It’s gold and black, hard covered, with an embossed sketch of Jesus on the cover. Try as I did through childhood and adolescence, I never quite understood… what was the good news? What was the news at all?
Grown-ups were awfully clear on things like Jesus loving me because the Bible told me so and the Lord being someone who could take my soul if I died while I was sleeping, neither of which made any sense whatsoever to me, and both of which were absolutely frightening. I didn’t like the idea of a total stranger, a man, a dead man, LOVING me, personally, because a book told me it was so. This caused a schism between me and Jesus that is still being repaired. I knew Jesus was a miracle baby in a manger who grew into a man hanging dead on a cross who was also, somehow, a king in heaven looking down on us, and ultimately the very same Lord who was going to snatch my soul. I had strong doubts about these beliefs, and more importantly, they weren’t good news. Was the miracle baby part the good news? I settled into that answer for a long while.
Then in middle school, I was told by classmates that I needed to find a special time to accept Jesus into my heart as my savior who died for my sins, because oh how he loved me. This, I needed some time to sit with. Sins? Savior? Died for me? Accepting Jesus into my heart? Has he been waiting for this? And how again does he KNOW me anyway? And there’s the LOVE again. This all seemed abstract and incredibly personal, though kids at my school asked each other about it like they were asking whether or not you’d ever been to summer camp. Have you accepted Jesus as your savior? Do you know the Good News? I looked at the Good News Bible shelved in my room alongside Mother Goose, Nancy Drew, and a massive stack of People magazines, and wondered, “He died for me? That’s the good news? I. Don’t. Get. It.” I think it was about this time exactly when I decided that atheism sounded like my new thing, so I tried that on for size for a while. It didn’t fit, but the knowledge I carried with me at my core didn’t fit into any sort of theology I was aware of. The indescribable connection I had to people and places I’d never met or been, the inner peace that vibrated through me when I sang with abandon, the awareness I had that we humans were so small and irrelevant in the great scope of creation and yet each of our thoughts, words and actions were so desperately important; these were not things I heard about in any of the churches I had been to, or read about in any of the Sunday School lessons. I wasn’t sure if they- the believers- knew something I didn’t or vice versa.
In high school, my choir sang the spiritual, “Ain’t That Good News,” which finally addressed my lifelong question. The good news, it told me, was that I was going to heaven when I die. There’s a robe and crown waiting for me, and Jesus is home there, in the kingdom. I’m gonna shoulder up my cross, the lyrics said, which I was pretty sure had something to do with my own sin, so maybe it was really good news that despite myself, heaven was waiting for me. This made sense; it sounded pretty great actually. But the God I knew in my life, the God that I could feel resting on my shoulders when I took a deep breath, wasn’t waiting for me in the afterlife. I could feel this God now, in my bones, here on earth. I sensed the rhythm of an old elm tree in my front yard, with a power that reached down and drew up life from a source beyond my perception, could comfort me.
When I was in my early 30s, I decided to read the Bible from cover to cover. By the last few chapters of the Old Testament, I was aching for good news. Reading the Gospels, I had recognized the familiar messages, the themes I knew were supposed to make me feel relieved, grateful, and celebratory. But it wasn’t until Acts, until the Holy Spirit was poured out, filling the people, that I found what I was looking for. The wind, the wonder, the fire, awe, and fellowship, this I could understand. The presence of God energizing the words and actions of real people. The absolutely indescribable magic of it all was ours, right now, to share, to learn and teach, to heal. There it was. Good News. That’s the news of this moment, of every moment. That news shows up for me when I struggle to find my bearings. I am reminded that there is only one way, and it has nothing to do with a right or wrong choice or direction and everything to do with the breath of the Holy Spirit being my own breath. The news washes over me when, in my deepest sorrow, I’m simultaneously filled with pure joy, and the boundaries between my own emotions and the emotions of world become blurred. The news is as bold as people suddenly speaking in tongues at 9 o’clock in the morning and as subtle as a glance between old friends.
Though it’s inseparable from me now, I often forget it, and in those times, I need it to ring from the rafters, resonating through me, awakening my soul when I have fallen asleep or, like lately, when I have fallen down and can’t find the fuel to stand. At other times, it’s a gentle hum in my body that I’m effortlessly able to bounce to others. It’s not the beautiful story of Christmas or the hope of Easter that make me want to share the Good News. It’s Pentecost. It’s the Holy Spirit.