Pentecost and pair o’ cleats

Psalm 118 (Morning)

Psalm 145 (Evening)

Isaiah 11:1-9

1 Corinthians 2:1-13

John 14:21-29

The Koine Greek word used for “advocate” in our reading today is paraclete, literally, “one who is called to someone’s side.”

Here’s an embarrassing childhood confession: The first time I heard the word “paraclete” used in a sermon, I thought the preacher was saying “pair o’ cleats.” I kept thinking, “Why’s Jesus talking about cleats? Baseball and football hadn’t been invented yet!”

The word “advocate” for us, in the 21st century, has actually taken on a legal overtone in some ways. Our relationship with our attorney as an advocate implies that the attorney fights for us against someone or something else. Courts appoint advocates to minors to fight for their rights in a complex legal system. Patient advocates act as protectors of patient welfare in a medical system that can suck a person down into a perverse rabbit hole where everyone is only a number and a statistic.

In short, we’ve come to see the word “advocate” as one that carries with it the potential for an adversarial relationship with our unseen or unknown enemies.

Actually, trying to discern the original meaning of paraclete isn’t as easy as it looks. It seems to be, as best as I understand it, a word that was mostly used by Jewish Greek-speakers than it was non-Jewish Greek speakers. It seems to refer to a helper in something of a greater good, and in some instances, a slave called in for help. Some authors believe it was a way of Hellenizing the Hebrew word “Menahem,” or “comforter.”

Well, as it turns out, my childhood notion of a pair of cleats, perhaps, isn’t so crazy in adding to the meaning of the word “advocate” in a fuller sense.

I remember the first time I was old enough to play softball in cleats. Actually, if one has ever coached kids, it’s a hoot to watch kids in cleats for the first time. Wearing cleats is a foreign sensation. It requires lifting one’s feet a little higher than one is used to doing, or the end result is suddenly finding oneself in a horizontal position on the ground. Kids in cleats for the first time look like a bunch of chickens walking around with exaggerated upward steps.

It doesn’t take long, though, for the wearer to intuitively realize that there are advantages to hugging the earth a little more tightly. I remember that suddenly I realized I could put more “zip” on a throw by trusting my back foot to hold more securely. I could leap at fly balls with a little more effort. I could turn and adjust to grounders a little quicker. I could round the bases a little tighter, and yes, even slide toward a fielder’s legs and hope she backed off of me or dropped the ball.

Yet the fact is, those cleats don’t do a thing in their own right but connect the wearer to the ground. Most of the changes occur in the person wearing the cleats. The wearer learns how to be a better ballplayer through them.

I suspect it’s no different with our Paraclete, the Holy Spirit. She connects us to the ground of our being, and when we feel more connected, we become free to move a little more quickly, round the corners of the basepaths of our life a little more tightly, and try to turn a little sharper and jump a little higher than we would have if we only could trust in ourselves, with no help.

When have you sensed, in your life, that the Paraclete truly has been a pair-o-cleats?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

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