Day 17: CONSPIRE
Jude 20-21: 20 But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; 21 keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.
I am missing Mary Jo today.
Mary Jo was my friend and mentor, co-conspirator for a decade. She died this spring, unexpectedly, from a brain aneurysm. Congenital, they said, a defect present since birth, there with every breath she breathed. But not a problem until the month before her 60th birthday.
Mary Jo made space for me. I met her during a summer internship program in college. She visited me in seminary, a denominational Brethren bigwig in a state with no Brethren congregations and she took me out to dinner. When I decided to do a volunteer year after graduation, she created a position for me. When the volunteer year ended, she created another position – this time with pay. She introduced me to people and places and processes that I would have never have had access to otherwise. She trusted me with important work and important stories. She modeled what it is to wield power with grace, to witness people’s pain and joy in equal measure, to lead with humility and boldness.
Mary Jo was always out there in front, paving the way, making space not just for me, but for so many others. She was a woman executive in a field and tradition that does not always take kindly to women in leadership. She navigated conflict and vitriol with a lightness of being and attention to relationship that I pray I might learn someday to possess.
Mary Jo believed in me. She didn’t just encourage me, she told me what she thought I was capable of and then threw me into actually doing it. She made ministry a real possibility. She showed me the joy of it, somehow, without ignoring the depths of the pain that it necessarily entails.
Mary Jo was a co-conspirator. Conspire is from Latin – to breathe together. We did that. We worked closely on project after project. We planned, we wrote, we edited, we taught, we implemented. We brainstormed. We complained. We lamented. We failed. We tried again. We invited. We retreated. We shared meals and airline miles and hotel rooms and leadership. We celebrated successes – fists in the air, shouts of joy kind of celebrations. We sat together in silence, uncertain about what would happen next. We breathed.
I miss her, so, so much.
Mary Jo preached at my ordination service. It was Pentecost, and she preached about the Holy Spirit:
The Holy Spirit broke into the quiet calm of that room in Jerusalem
like the rush of a violent wind and with flames descending.
The Holy Spirit breaks into our work, our worship,
our fears, our hopes, our anxieties, our dreams,
our call, our response…..
In Hebrew, the word for ‘spirit’ is ruach. The same word, ruach, is also the word for ‘breath.’
To breathe is to be in-spirited.
To conspire, to breathe together, is to be connected by the ruach, the wind, the Holy Spirit.
And the Spirit doesn’t exist only in life – the Spirit is that thing that transgresses and inspires and comforts and compels. The Spirit binds us beyond this life.
I am praying in the Holy Spirit tonight, praying that I might be both worthy and not dwarfed by the honor of carrying on some piece of Mary Jo’s legacy. I miss my co-conspirator. I miss her encouragement and her leadership and her laughter and her joy. And I am grateful for all that breathing we got to do together.