Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Looking for the Spirit
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the July 1, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)
The brief parting comments by worshippers as they part from the church doors after weekend Masses normally are rather polite and even predictably generic. There’s the usual reference to the homily (positive and negative). And, of course, the courteous wishes about having a good day or a nice week.
It’s understandable, then, that one unusual comment really caught my attention a few weeks ago. While briefly taking my hand with a brief good-bye gesture, a nicely dressed gentleman smiled at me and said with all seriousness that he was praying that I would “get the Holy Spirit.”
At first his comment took me aback. I felt a tinge of feistiness. “Do I not at least try to follow the guidance of the Spirit?” I quickly found myself musing. “Isn’t my effort obvious?” Then my reflection turned theological: “Hey, I have had the Spirit since the day I was baptized! What’s he talking about!?”
The man’s comment became somewhat haunting. I spent several days thereafter mulling it over. I even shared the encounter with my deacon. My “looking for the Spirit” became an inside joke between the two of us.
Then one day the Spirit made its move – just before a Sunday Mass as the ministers, the deacon and I were beginning the entrance procession. Typical of God, right when we least expect it! Out of nowhere this huge bird came swooping toward us and hit the big bay window in the foyer where we were standing in all our holiness. Smack! Poor bird. It picked itself up off the ground, shook its little flattened head and fluttered back into the heavens. The deacon just looked at me and quipped dryly, “Well, at least he tried!”
I still laugh when I think of the scene. So, too, do those with whom I share the story.
But does this mean that I am still without the Spirit? After having failed to catch me in a defenseless, unsuspecting moment, has the Spirit gone away – waiting for another unguarded moment? Does my search continue?
My gentleman friend’s well-intentioned comment and this subsequent humorous scene have given me much food for reflection. (It even gave birth to this column!)
Why do we laugh?
I would suggest it is because it captures well a rather active image we hold of our relationship with the Holy Spirit. But our image is a poorly grounded one.
A wholesome theology of the Holy Spirit would indicate that as God’s children, we never are without the Spirit. Even before Baptism – by which the full gift of the Spirit is celebrated sacramentally – the Holy Spirit of God is part and parcel of our lives. We exist by the very life-breath (Spirit) of God. Is this not what it means to be a child of God? Is this not what moral theologians speak of when they describe our fundamental orientation toward goodness? Is this union not evidenced in the root dictate of conscience to do good and to avoid evil? Is this not the key element in the story of Creation, when God breathes life into a handful of dust? Without Holy Spirit we are nothing but dust, literally and figuratively.
But then why do we picture the Spirit as residing outside of us, resting on some heavenly branch, waiting for a key moment to swoop into our lives? Why do we pray “Come, Holy Spirit,” when we need help with a family problem, a troubled relationship, a difficult decision, a passing grade on a test? Is the Spirit apart from us – as if Creation existed independent of God’s continuing and creative will? Is the Spirit “out there” somewhere, awaiting our beckon? (If so, then what does the Spirit do with all its free time?)
Since the window-smacking incident I have become much more aware of the need to be inspired by a truer understanding of the significance of God’s Holy Spirit. The challenge to our spirituality is not to have an openness to the Spirit’s coming. The Spirit already is here! The challenge is consciously to claim this marvelous reality – realizing that we are sons and daughters precisely because of our union with God whose life (Spirit) blossoms within us in such unique and beautiful fashion. And if that is true of us personally, how can we treat another equally Spirit-filled brother or sister with anything less than awe and profound reverence!?
We need not go about looking for the Spirit. The Spirit is closer to us than we are to our own selves. Our spiritual life is precisely that – a Spirit-ual life, an increasingly conscious affirmation of our union with God. Being Spirit-filled is not the result of an occasional religious experience caused by a Divine Grace which catches us unaware in the foyer of a church (or anywhere else). Rather, being Spirit-filled is to walk daily – moment by moment – by the light of the Source of Life which burns deep and true.
We pray “Come, Holy Spirit” to God who comes not from without, but from within.
(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane. His book, Catholics
Believe, is available from Harcourt Religion Publishers.)
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