I find delight in the companion, tutor, gardener, whole-er, healer, pray-er, weaver, friend, playful one, formator, artist, counselor, therapist, integrator, fruit-producer, gift-giver, embrace, draw-er in to relationship with the Trinity who is the Spirit. And her* feast of Pentecost approaches in a few days. My delight in her and dependence on her in the work that I do (through In-Spirited! Hmmm… wonder who its patron is!) is prompting a few reflections over the next days that I’ll call brushstrokes.
I am not an artist with paint, but I have watched others reverently or courageously or hesitantly or boldly choose color and make first strokes on blank canvas. The first strokes are not the picture, but they are part of the beginning. That’s all I seek to do here. There is no capturing the Spirit – nailing wind or fire down is a ridiculous endeavor. And yet… she draws me, she draws us… and this feast provides an excuse to look at her directly in the midst of the Trinity’s relational dance (and perichoresis – intimate indwelling of each other) and celebrate her love-living, especially as she does it in us these days of our lives!
And so, an initial brushstroke and image for your reflection:
Many years ago, in my VERY early young adulthood, I spent four years in a religious community. You know how memories are some combination of what actually happened, what you remember of what happened, what you have associated with it since, and subsequent learnings and integrations? Well, I have an amusing memory from my seminary days (that’s what we called the 18 months of novitiate). And it’s one of those combinations – but I think mostly accurate.
In the midst of what we experienced as rather intense formation processes, and what we knew to be the Spirit’s collaboration with our personal/human/spiritual growth, someone expressed well what was felt at times. “Bird — get off my shoulder!” It was addressed to the Holy Spirit, and was a comic way to express a very human plea: “I’m on overload. I’m learning enough about me right now, thanks. I can’t integrate any more. And I don’t want more awareness of what seems to be off kilter in my ways of being.” It might have said something too about how we understood growth, and perhaps that we had to “fix ourselves” by ourselves, but that’s another story, and one that risks an off-target compulsion that leaves little room for grace.
An on-target truth that my sisters and I were experiencing deeply and trying to name was that the Spirit is very VERY involved with us – intimately and constantly. We just weren’t sure it was a friendly involvement – at least our image captured some of that hesitancy.
Today I am absolutely certain that the Spirit’s involvement in the work of our lives is entirely to be trusted — much more than my own perspective! And that the Spirit’s methodologies are always good. If we but open our eyes and ears – partially with the Spirit’s help – we will see so many ways that God is communicating specifically with us and to us, shaping and forming us inwardly and outwardly with invitations. We will find in our daily experiences opportunities to see and to respond, to learn and to develop. We will locate the place where the Spirit prays deeply within us, for we do not know how to pray or what to pray. We can trust that we will experience from the Spirit strength and gentleness, firmness and tenderness; and rest knowing that we are utterly safe in her tutelage. Jesus has sent the Spirit to us to teach and remind us, to dwell in and with us, to guide and journey with us. We are never alone – within or without.
St. Basil of Caesarea used the image of the Spirit as ‘brooding’, as a mother bird over the eggs in her nest. It is true that her warmth causes the eventual cracking of the eggs. And perhaps the eggs, and the baby birds within, might prefer to remain encased and not be ‘cracked up’. So it is with us. But the Spirit broods over us, providing heat and safety, and makes us restless within. Her presence cracks us open from without and within, if we allow it: and she will be there to feed us, as a mother bird remains. She will help us encounter Christ who feeds us with his very self, and teach us to leap and fly and sing and be who we are, within the love of the Trinity in the world the Trinity loves.
“A bird does not sing because she has an answer, but because she has a song.” Heard that one before? The Spirit has a song of relationship and unending love in the mystery of the three/Trinity. She sings in us and around us. As we come, over and over again, to new birth with her help… we too learn to sing. And our singing is a witness to the delight of knowing the Creator, the Son, the Spirit. It is an invitation to others to take part in the flight, the dance, the growing, the enterprise that is God’s wonderful desire for us, the world, the cosmos – participating in a love that is extending and outreaching, in-gathering and embracing. Let us sing with the Spirit, not chase her off our shoulders in fear! The Spirit loves us too. Speak with her today.
* I’ve used the feminine pronoun for the Spirit, with no intention of limiting the Spirit to any gender. There are no limits on God, on the Spirit. Still, pronouns are helpful in prose, and only come in his/her/it. Given St. Basil’s image (see later in the blog) of a brooding mother bird, I have chosen to utilize “her” here. I actually love the work of Madeleine L’Engle where she used “el” as a created pronoun to refer to God (connecting with Elohim).