Pentecost Sunday B – Spirit of a Smiling God
The countryside and the ocean are good places to destress and clear the head. When I lived in California, there were some locations within a half hour’s drive to which I repaired when needing release from the anaesthetic routine of life. For a few years after I retired, I was blest to live in the beautiful surrounds of Co. Wicklow, the ‘Garden County’ of Ireland. Today, I live in a facility that’s set in its own lovely wooded grounds in south Dublin. On these early summer days, those of us lucky enough to live here enjoy the natural surrounds and bask in something more powerful and timeless than our individual selves. That’s the Breath of God at work in our relationship to nature. ‘All these look to you to give them their food in due season. You give it, they gather it up: you open your hand, they have their fill’ – Psalm 103
Pentecost marks the apex and the end of the Church’s annual celebration of the mystery of Jesus and his mission. The feast is depicted in the Acts as a sudden wonderstruck moment of wind and noise and fire and people speaking in tongues. It was an experience of deep joy and connectedness for the apostles who were filled with the Spirit of God. A new vitality came over them, and they found themselves filled with a fresh and spontaneous energy and euphoria. They had the experience and they understood its meaning, for we are told they went out preaching the marvels of God. For those who had gathered in that room on that Pentecost day, it must have felt like a real encounter with the same Spirit that Jesus had breathed forth from the cross – John 20: 20. What does it mean for us today?
American theologian Elizabeth Johnson offers the gentle symbol of a dove hovering over its nest of chicks as an image of the Spirit of God hovering over all creation: animal, vegetable and mineral (1). In a similar positive vein Julian of Norwich has this good-natured image of God: Sitting in heaven, smiling, completely relaxed, his face looking like a marvellous symphony. These days, birds are nesting and hatching and feeding their young. Occasionally I observe a bird arriving with food for her chicks and hovering briefly over the nest before dropping a little breakfast into open and waiting beaks. The chicks will soon grow, acquire the confidence and courage to fly, and be gone… The work of the same Spirit today is to ‘lead us into all truth’ – to lead us into an original or primordial knowing the reality of who we are: confident witnesses to the truth by showing the world that there is more to life than mere survival or the pursuit of pleasure, power and success – cf. John 16: 7ff.
I think it was Ron Rolheiser who said that as the body needs food and the soul needs meaning, so the spirit needs ultimate meaning. Our spirit is properly nourished only by the truth of God’s love revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The Spirit blows wherever and whenever it wills. Its action is elusive and enlivening, and is discerned if we are in touch with the deepest and truest levels of our hearts. It ‘speaks with whisperings too deep for words’ – Rom 8: 27. It can happen, says St. Bernard, that the Spirit touches us so silently that we we become aware of it only much later (2). Donal Dorr mentions that ‘to be truly sensitive to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit we need to be not only religiously converted (focused entirely on God) and morally converted (committed to doing what is right) but also affectively converted’. The affective conversion, he says, is a transformation of the heart ‘that leads to our spontaneous feelings and reactions becoming in line with our religious and moral commitment’ (3).
Fr. QQ – 05/19/2021
1 – E. Johnson, ASK THE BEASTS, 139
2 – St. Bernard, SERMON 76 on the Canticle of Canticles
3 – D. Dorr, A CREED FOR TODAY, 143-144