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God is Amazing
by Wendi Bernau

The wonder and mystery of the Holy Spirit astounds me. I am humbled when I have the privilege to participate in the movement of God anytime I am able to listen and respond to God’s leading. Case in point: I had applied for and received grant money to facilitate an arts retreat for recovering alcoholics at a women’s transitional housing facility in Chicago the first weekend in November. There is a lot of prayer and energy expended in preparation for these retreats: the elements, flow, etc. I’m a feeler, and it has to feel right. 

As an opening ceremony for retreats, I typically give each participant a colored paper shape and invite them to symbolically give themselves to the process and become part of this temporary community by laying their shapes out on a giant paper butterfly while I play a video of a song with lyrics displayed. It is a powerful ritual and the song changes depending on the group, but I often use an arrangement by a vocal band called the Maccabeats (who take pop songs and change the words to educate about Jewish culture); they have a beautiful musical arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” with the words changed to the “Lecha Dodi”: the prayer that begins the Sabbath. I was reluctant to use it this time because I knew I would have no video capability. The song is in Hebrew and although I could paraphrase the lyric beforehand, I would not be giving them a real-time translation, so they would be listening to an unknown language. However, I just couldn’t get the song out of my head…so, shrugging my shoulders, I used it anyway.

After the butterfly introduction and the first art meditation, a woman from the house’s board of directors - the same one who had been embroiled in some grant-related weirdness before the event that almost forced its cancellation - came up to me and said she needed to tell me something. I was concerned but willing to listen. She said she was uncomfortable with the grant because the funder’s website and materials seemed very Christian-oriented. Not knowing me at all, she was worried about her participation in this retreat and whether it would be terribly uncomfortable for her because she is Jewish. In fact, Hebrew is her first language, not English. “But,” she said, “when you played the ‘Lecha Dodi,’ I knew that I would be safe and could relax and give myself to the process.”

That’s how I know God is amazing.