Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Temple of the Holy Spirit

Thursday, February 21, 2008 -- Week of 2 Lent

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 953)
Psalms 71 (morning) 74 (evening)
Genesis 42:29-38
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Mark 4:21-34

My mind went to Michael Koonsman this morning as I read the lessons. It was 1977. I was in my first semester of seminary. Each week the new students would discuss a church issue for a couple of hours -- the Bible and Authority, the new Prayer Book, women in the church, etc. This week the topic was gay and straight. Our presenter was Michael Koonsman. He was the first openly gay person I had ever met.

Very tall; long, almost mournful face; expressive, enormous hands; quiet, steady voice. He told his story. (Like so many I've heard since.) I hope I remember accurately. He knew from childhood he was different. He didn't see what the other boys did when the pretty girls walked by. He looked at Playboy, but he knew his reaction wasn't quite the same. He struggled to repress the feelings when he got old enough to know. Married his best friend and hoped his deep care for her would eventually overcome the restlessness. It didn't. She understood when he decided he had to be who he was. As I remember, he was already ordained, and he was so fearful that his divorce would cost him his ministry. He worried whether he could be accepted as a gay priest.

Once he became honest, open with himself and with others, peace happened -- spiritual and psychological peace. He was able to serve as a priest, but no longer in the fast-track-to-a-big-parish model as before. More modest, yet honest, intimate and satisfying ministry.

He finished. We looked around the room. I can't remember what the others said, but I remember what I said. I quoted from today's epistle. I looked directly at Michael; I leaned forward for emphasis. I think I gestured, pointing my finger at him rather aggressively. "But don't you know," I said, "that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit?"

He looked at me intently, but without reaction. A voice of deep intensity and absolute authenticity rose from within him saying, "Yes! Yes, my body IS the temple of the Holy Spirit." And he fixed his eyes on me with utter integrity. That was the moment that something in me cracked. His response was an anomaly. It had no category in my paradigm. His answer seemed completely authentic, yet it was contrary to everything I had ever understood. I made no response. We went to the next "question."

But for me everything changed. It was like the seed that Jesus mentions in today's gospel. A small seed had been planted deep in the ground of my being. Silently, invisibly it began to take root.

I told Kathy about Michael, and when he taught a Hatha Yoga class that spring, we enrolled. I couldn't do most of those difficult poses that he assumed with such grace. He practiced Yoga as a preparation for meditation. I stretched awkwardly out of balance. Yes, his body was the temple of the Holy Spirit, at least more so than mine at Yoga.

By the following summer I was actively researching, questioning, learning. Dave -- a seminarian from another denomination, and the most grounded, mature, spiritually gifted seminarian I had met -- let me ask him every dumb question a straight boy from Mississippi would want to ask a gay person. And hidden things began to come to light. The seed began to sprout and grow. And I began to see light and life in ways that had been dark and hidden.

From that beginning has come so much fruit. So many friends. The joy of being free to celebrate the love that is so evident in couples like Louie and Earnest, Anne and Robin, James and Don, Catherine and Debby. So much joy; so much happiness right there in front of us, among us. Temples where the Holy Spirit is manifest and grows.

I doubt if Michael retained any memory of me. Maybe he told his friends about the Southern boy who shook his finger at him. I hope they laughed charitably and said, "Bless his heart."

But Michael, bless your heart. You never knew it, but you opened something in me that has flowed with the water of new birth. You started a change that produced wonderful fruit of the Holy Spirit and unmeasured joy for me. That day you were a temple of the Holy Spirit for me. You planted a seed that continues to bloom. Thank you, thank you. I will never forget you.


Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117

An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location --

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


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