Living in the Time of the Holy Spirit
Sunday we celebrated the Feast of Pentecost and the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit to His followers. Now we enter into a time called “Ordinary Time” — a name which suggests that nothing special is going on and nothing special is to be expected. That perception couldn’t be farther from the truth!
Ordinary Time is the time of the Holy Spirit in the Church. It’s a time for learning, growing, sharing, reaching out to each other and the world. It’s also a time for entering ever more deeply into the life of the Trinity, a reality we’ll celebrate this coming Sunday.
How do we recognize the coming of the Spirit? I’ve been reflecting on the symbols we use for the Spirit and the words of the songs we pray at this season of our liturgical year. There’s the dove, a symbol for gentleness and peace. The Spirit came upon Jesus like a dove when He was baptized (Jn 1:32). Then there are the mighty wind and tongues as of fire that marked the coming of the Spirit to those gathered in the Upper Room (Acts 2:2-3). In the Old Testament, the Lord came to Elijah in a gentle breeze as he waited by a cave on the mountainside (1 Kgs 19:12-13).
Each of those images tells us something important about the Spirit and what the coming of the Spirit into our lives might mean. The idea that the Lord doesn’t come in the form of earthquakes, wind storms, or the raging of nature is important. Destruction is not a characteristic result of the coming of our God. Peace and the time to live, breathe and grow are. And in times of destruction, God comes through the caring hands and presence of those who try to help alleviate the pain and suffering.
The dove is a bird that we associate with gentleness and a soft cooing call. I loved waking up to the sound of doves cooing when I was a child and visited my grandparents who lived in a warmer community, where there were doves. The dove is often a symbol of love and peace.
But then again, at Pentecost there’s wind and fire… Living in California, we’re very much aware of the power of wind and fire. In forested areas, as well as in the hills covered by chaparral (the native vegetation), fire can sweep across the land, driven by winds it creates itself, leaving a swath of seeming destruction behind it. Those who live outside of the cities and towns must be constantly vigilant to keep the underbrush back away from their homes, so there’s a chance of saving the home in a wild fire.
How does fire fit into the whole peace and love scene we associate with the Holy Spirit? The image of a forest full of brush, or the overgrown chaparral on the California hills gives a clue. Brush in a forest can become so dense that it begins to choke the life of the other plants and the animals living there. A healthy forest is one that is cleared out regularly. Nature does this with fire. The chaparral even has plants that ignite spontaneously when the temperature reaches a certain point. The whole area burns off and then new plants can grow. There are plants that depend on fire in order for new seedlings to sprout — in forests and in chaparral.
In a very real way, each of us needs cleansing fire sometimes too. It’s not fun, but it clears the way for new growth and wondrous surprises.
Then there’s the other side of fire — the creative side. We speak of people being “fired by love” or “going like a house afire” into a new project or calling. Fire is powerful. Fire gives energy. Fire brings light. The Holy Spirit’s coming is to “light a fire” under each of us — to get us going as Christ’s body here on Earth. Hands, feet, voices, arms, legs, minds, hearts.
We sing, “Come, Lord Jesus, send us your Spirit, renew the face of the Earth.” And the Lord grants our request. The Spirit comes. And with the help and fire of the Spirit, we move forward to bring new life, to renew the face of the world around us – in our homes, our worksites, our communities, our world.