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Dave Brisbin

In Count

Met a prison chaplain who told me about needing to notify an inmate that his father had died, but when he called the inmate to his office, they were in count. Prisons count multiple times a day—inmates go to their cells and stand at their bunks until the count clears. Everything stops. No one moves.

I realized we’d been in count for Lent, interiorly standing at our bunks, stopping distractions, counting out 40 days preparing for Easter. But by then, we were already in count again.

Jews begin counting days from the second day of Passover through seven weeks of seven, 49 days, with the fiftieth day marking the Feast of Weeks. These two festivals mark first the physical liberation of the people from Egypt and then their spiritual liberation as they received the Law, establishing a new relationship with God. A necessary gap, a period of adjustment lies between the two liberations—a gradual graduation from the comforting but limiting reliance on physical connection to the limitless expanse of pure spirit.

Christian tradition overlays on this structure. Begins counting seven weeks of seven on Easter Sunday, and after counting to 49, the fiftieth day is Pentecost—the day that Jesus’ first followers were freed from the mental certainty of their physical relationship with Jesus to the full realization of their relationship with unseen God. Just as Jesus told Nicodemus that we all must be born of both water and spirit in order to see the Kingdom of God, the two births are separated by a gap, a period of adjusting to a new, non-physical, non-rational relationship with a God who like the wind, can’t be pinned down.

This is where we are now. In count between Easter and Pentecost.

The way to Pentecost begins at Calvary, the death of our physical certainty and reliance on rational thought. As we move through our grief over that loss, we begin to recognize that God didn’t die with our certainty, but still lives in the details of our daily lives in ways we hadn’t considered. And with that awareness, we’re in count to our Pentecost moment, the second liberation and birth, our embrace of pure spirit in physical life.


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