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There is an unusual feast celebrated in many Christian churches. Bearing the name Pentecost, a name that is strange to many, its celebration simultaneously mystifies and lures us. It is also considered to be the birthday of the church. Special attention and homage is paid to God’s Holy Spirit on this day. This is clear. What remains a mystery is the meaning behind the nomenclature. Who, what, how and where is this entity that some call the Holy Ghost?
Even the questions are curious ones. How can we refer to God’s Spirit in terms that are peculiarly dissimilar? Thoughts race through my mind, especially since I recently participated in a discussion group centered on our understanding of this portion of the Nicene creed recited in many churches. All present were invited to share their experience and comprehension of the words, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.”
At first, there was profound silence in the room. I think all of us were contemplating the unspoken questions that bore the content of our expressed belief. Who, what, how and where is this entity we call the Holy Spirit? Slowly, deliberately, silence broke into stories of grace.
There were tales describing unusual events. Some proclaimed words heard in the mind that were so clear they could not be denied. Others had visions, not spookily weird ones, but distinct, comforting pictures that gave proof through their dark night that God is near and here.
With sad sighs, there was a universal proclamation that these events had been kept secretively in their heart of hearts for fear that no one would believe and understand. No one would take them seriously. Worse yet, others might dismiss them as strange, kooky folks. A prayerful community was necessary, even crucial, before this kind of communication could be shared.
I listened, learned and heard the words of Scripture come alive. Followers of the Way, as Christianity was first described, were all in one place together when the time for their Pentecost was fulfilled. In that unity, no matter how diverse the individuals were, God rested. God rested on them and arrested them with divine presence. Stopped in their tracks, so to speak, they realized that it was God’s spirit that infused them. God’s spirit impelled them to speak God’s truth. As a result, all heard what God wanted them to hear in the way and time they could apprehend it. The experience amazed them. It can and does amaze us today.
Incredible though it might seem, God’s life is being poured into and out of each of us. Questions remain. What are we doing about it? How are we sharing God’s life with each other?
St. Paul reminds us there are different kinds of spiritual gifts and different forms of service, different workings, but it is the same God who produces all of them in everyone. All of them in everyone. That’s a tall order. It’s a lot to swallow. How does it work?
A friend of mine noted that she saw a bumper sticker stating: “Truth not tolerance.” If it is true that the same God is producing the working of divinity in, with and through each one of us, then how can tolerance be avoided or denied? Must we not be willing to listen, learn, share and discern together?
Is truth mitigated when we listen to another’s viewpoint, when we pay attention to an alternate experience of life? When we speak the language of love with our lives not just our mouths, do we not become more tolerant?
I looked around the room. This time I really looked at the variety of people there. They were not simply young and old, tall and short, strong and frail. This time they were bearers and sharers of God’s word. When they spoke and when they were silent, I sensed more acutely the presence of a speaking and listening God. I no longer received information. I began to comprehend the power of transformation. My truth became expansive, making room for their truth to become our truth.
It dawned on me that I needed to move from saying the creed to praying it. I needed to deepen my trust and faith that believing in the Holy Spirit meant believing that God gives life to all. It called me to contemplate the origin of the word adoration that I might understand what I was saying when I spoke the creedal words, “adored and glorified.”
I never thought about the facts that adore stems from ad ore, to the mouth. It is a kind of spiritual mouth-to-mouth resuscitation promised by God. From God’s mouth to mine and mine to yours and yours to mine, life is given. We are brought back from the brink of death, the edge of despair, discouragement and dismay, into new life. It is the working of God’s divine spirit in us.
This is the life to which we give witness. This is the life we have when we accept our role as prophets, the role God has given us so that we might be people on fire with faith, hope and love. It is the way God speaks to us. It is the strong, driving wind of life that fills the entire house of humanity.
My musing caused me to smile with the wildness of bewilderment. As I mulled over these thoughts and gazed about the room, a divine mosaic emerged. Each person a piece, each piece essential to the portrait of divinity working in human history to save us.
God’s Holy Spirit is no ghost. God’s Holy Spirit is living, breathing, acting through, with and in our holy spirits. God’s Holy Spirit is seen in the hands that heal wounds, the words that renew strength, the compassion that moistens dryness, and the forgiveness that guides straying steps.
All I can look for is divinity expressed in humanity. All I can hope and believe, say and pray is, “Come, Holy Spirit!”
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives [a trilogy of Scriptural meditations], lead chaplain at Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four. She can be reached at email@example.com.