We are too often unaware of the power of God’s spirit within us, over us, with us all of the time. It is a Presence which we take for granted, a gift which we too often pass over and ignore because we are looking for something we consider to be greater.
And yet, God’s spirit within us is a treasure. It has kept people intact and in their right minds in the worst of circumstances. It has given those who have wanted to give up the “one more breath” that they have needed to get to the next day where there is deliverance, there are answers, and where there is hope. God’s spirit within us is our power; it connects us with the living God and thus equips us to get through, get over, or get out of a place or situation which is not good for us or to us.
The other day I listened to a Greek Jew who survived the Holocaust. He and his family were snatched up and taken to Auschwitz. A young man at the time, he and his family had endured the tortuous 3-day train ride to the death camp in a railroad car where there were so many people that it was hard to breathe, and no space to move; if one had the good fortune to sit down, he or she dared not stand up because that space would be quickly taken by another tired soul. He did not understand the full impact of what was happening when upon the train’s arrival at its destination, they were all told to jump off and get into formation. He did not know and he could not know that those last three miserable days on that cramped train was the last time he would ever see his parents and siblings.
When he was outside, he did not know the significance of the huge chimneys he saw, smoke billowing out with a fury, it seemed, and he did not know that those who were on the same train as he had been who were being led to the right – including his family – were to be the next group of people to be herded into the gas chamber.
He was led to the left and was “allowed” to work, albeit under the worst of conditions. He and other young men were put in charge of taking the dead bodies out of the gas chamber and taking them to a place where they would be burned. It was a massive job, as nearly 8000 people a day were killed.
He remembered that when it seemed that the Germans were about to lose the war the inhabitants of Auschwitz were told they were being taken to another camp. By this time, the young man weighed only 108 pounds. It was winter, and it was a cold winter at that. There was snow on the ground, and the icy winds made their discomfort all the greater. They had only the thinnest of clothing; no coats, gloves or hats – and the trip was a long one. For miles they walked, day and night. Those who fell and were unable to keep going were shot on the spot.
He wondered aloud, as he had done more than once during his time at Auschwitz, where God was. He struggled mightily but held on. God was all he had. But it was during this walk from one camp to another where he felt the power of God’s spirit. He says he thought about the weather in his native Athens; it would be hot there, he remembers thinking. He is not even sure why his mind went there, but as he thought about Athens, something happened. “I was thinking about Athens …and then I was sweating.”
He was beyond surprised. He had to put his hands on his face to make sure he was not hallucinating and true enough, he was not. He was sweating. God’s spirit in him had done something to make him sweat in sub-zero weather. He wept. He knew it was God with him, Immanuel, refusing to let go of this young man because this young man had refused to let go of him. He completed that tortuous trip and made it to the next camp, where Americans soon arrived and liberated those who had been held captive.
The power of God’s spirit within is what fed and kept African Americans alive during slavery and the Jim Crow era. People of African descent ingested God’s spirit and that spirit kept them “so they wouldn’t let go.” They felt the power of having hope in the midst of what seemed a hopeless situation; in essence, they might have said “and then I was sweating,” because they thought about freedom and justice, they thought about children to come who would need for them to survive, they thought about holding on to honor those who had not survived.
“And then I was sweating” needs to be the testimony of anyone who is in a dark place. We all have them, some more than others, but if we can imagine freedom, if we can imagine deliverance, if we can imagine a new day even as the present day seems to be everlasting, we can experience the power of God’s spirit within us, welling up, making us see what is so far away. God’s spirit within us is what has brought any person through a horrific time, and God’s spirit will continue to do that now.
“And then I was sweating.” Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.
Amen and amen.