Two short statements to ponder on this auspicious Spirit-filled day—one from us and one to us:
1: “Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.”
2: “Peace be with you!”
Somewhere along the way in my life, someone told me that “It is said…” (I always want to ask: “BY WHOM?”) No matter…It is said that “snow is a new beginning.” Perhaps that thought was occasioned at the end of a storm where & when everything was covered in white and all seemed pristine (ever new, unspoiled, in its original condition). As I look out my window today, I can see the logic of that thought and it puts me in mind of the creation of the world when “the earth was formless and void and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” I had just read a prayer by St. Augustine that might be just the thing for our reflection today. See what you think.
Breathe into me, Holy Spirit, that my mind may turn to what is holy.
Move me, Holy Spirit, that I may do what is holy.
Stir me, Holy Spirit, that I may love what is holy.
Strengthen me Holy Spirit, that I may preserve what is holy.
Protect me, Holy Spirit, that I may never lose what is holy.
I just cleaned my glasses so I would see clearly what to write – or, eventually, what I have written. As I was doing that, I looked out my newly cleaned bedroom window and noticed that I missed a rather large smudge on the bottom left area of the glass pane. I wonder how many days it will be before I clear that distraction. And then I wonder what unplanned-for things will happen today. It is an important day for the Sisters of St. Joseph, Albany Province. Today we choose those five Sisters who will comprise our leadership team for the next five years.
It is a monumental moment for two reasons. Because of the COVID-19 strictures, we cannot have our election as usual so we will be gathering “virtually” on our computers, iPads or cell phones to cast the first electronic vote that, just like votes for our civil leaders, must be “secret”—something that could not have been thought of earlier in our lives. Secondly, we do this in a tumultuous moment in our country’s history. We are diminishing in numbers (although not in spirit!), we are in the middle of a pandemic, and the country is in upheaval and still seeing daily protests (on day 19 today) in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the issues of police brutality.
Seeing clearly will be imperative today for all of us – those who select and those who are selected. I can feel the stirrings of the Holy Spirit already as I prepare for the privilege that is ours today. We may be surprised by the Spirit in the selections but I never worry as we have always had what we need to persevere. We will listen to each of the nominees this morning and then, in the midst of prayer, we will vote this afternoon. I am pleased to recall that today is the feast of St. Anthony of Padua whose life was changed at an ordination ceremony where no one was prepared to speak. Franciscanmedia.org says that the humble and obedient Anthony hesitantly accepted the task. The years of searching for Jesus in prayer, of reading of sacred Scripture and of serving him in poverty, chastity and obedience had prepared Anthony to allow the Spirit to use his talents. Anthony’s sermon was astounding to those who expected an unprepared speech and knew not the Spirit’s power to give people words.
How could I fail to trust the process that has been prepared for us and the women who offer themselves to the service of God and our Congregation? The Spirit is moving. Now it’s time to be sure that my technology is operating as well! God’s blessing on us all!
Another Saturday…perhaps a good time to take a breath, to put to rest all the troubles of the week now ending and to pray for more peaceful days in the weeks to come. We began the week with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. We might ask ourselves how we have kept the fire of faith alive – even just during this week. How will we do so going forward? Here’s a brief prayer from Joyce Rupp to encourage us:
Flame of Love, Enkindler of Hearts, enlighten my mind to recognize where my love has grown dim. Spark renewed desire in my heart to give myself ever more completely to your service. Beam your grace through my being so I respond freely. May the fruits of your love be harvested through me. I will share them generously. Amen. (Prayer Seeds, p. 174)
This prayer reminds me that it is not always what we achieve that is important but how we go about the doing – our intention and motivation – that is key to “success.”
There’s no doubt these days that we understand the power of the wind. Climate change has given us countless images of the destructive power of tornados, cyclones and even just a strong wind. On the other hand, the same power that decimates towns and villages, if harnessed, is able these days to provide electricity for entire towns and villages. In addition, there is a feeling like no other in being outside on a spring day listening to the wind blow through the trees, bringing a freshness that seems to blow away all sadness and distress, if only for a time…
As I think of it, fire is like that too. The power of fire for destruction has been shown to us in the United States over and over as we watch acres of forest land gain the upper hand from firefighters in dry seasons. At this moment, cities across our nation are falling victim to rage against injustice, and fire is the most visible sign of the destruction. Nonetheless, we can find such peace in a campfire, providing warmth on a chilly night, or the quiet of a candle flame as we settle on a meditation mat…
Today we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost and consider the images of wind and fire. The power of the rushing wind speaks of God’s Spirit being poured out “through all the earth” and the fire of love being ignited in the hearts of those who caught the message. It is a day, perhaps, to consider our participation in the spread of God’s presence in the world of today. Some of us will be the “mighty wind” but more likely we will be among those whose presence shines a tiny light, reflecting God to others.
It is true that we have the power to raise up or tear down with our every breath. May it be our prayer today to know our place in the long line of believers who have read the signs of God’s Spirit and nurtured the turning of the world for those of us whose time is now.
The Episcopal monks of the Congregation of St. John the Evangelist offer an online meditation each morning (ssje.org). It is always brief and simply expressed. Today I thought it perfect for this Friday as we contemplate how we might incarnate the gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives – just as we are, in the uniqueness of our own lives – in preparation for the great feast of Pentecost. Entitled “Now,” it reads as follows:
To cultivate wisdom you need not read another book, nor watch another Ted talk, nor earn another academic degree, nor visit another monastery, nor travel to the ends of the earth. Be where you are, which is where God is with you. Say “yes” to life on the terms that God is giving you just now; pay attention to your life. (Brother Curtis Almquist, SSJE)
The lectionary readings on this day (Feast of the Ascension) when we consider the completion of Christ’s mission on earth are among the most familiar of the Church year. What then can be said that does not sound prosaic but rather at least interesting at such an important moment? Although the events of this day were likely earth-shattering for the apostles, of course, I wonder if the important lines that we read are not about what happened on that day but rather appear as two brief directives that move us toward what involved a preparation on the part of the apostles.
In the first reading (Act of the Apostles 1:1-11) after recounting the events of the past 40 days, Jesus “enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem but to wait…” Then in the last reading from the gospel (Luke, 24), Jesus directed them to “stay in the city…” In both cases, they were waiting “for the promise of the Father.” How could they possibly know what was ahead for them?
Wait, he said. Stay. For most of us, waiting is not the easiest task. Nor, I would be willing to wager, was it so for these friends of Jesus who had been with him in good times and bad and now, at his departure from the earth, must have been thrown back into a place of not knowing once again. But wait they did, going back into an upper room, perhaps the best symbol of encounter in the events of all their time together.
Have you ever waited for something, not knowing exactly what you were waiting for or what the outcome of your waiting would engender? Maybe you were told Christmas would bring you a great gift this year…or, as an opposing thought, perhaps you have heard a weather report of an impending storm and are waiting for the outcome. How is it possible in either of these situations to wait with some modicum of patience?
Waiting for God to speak can also take patience. Hunkering down in stillness to hear “the still small voice of God” takes practice and perseverance. Maybe you are waiting for courage or the answer to a burning question or simply to know that God considers you a “beloved one” each and every day.
As we wait for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit once again at Pentecost, may we recall the words of Jesus who said at his departure from this world and who promises to us: “I am with you always, until the end of the world.”
Chapter 9 of the Acts of the Apostles speaks of the many miraculous happenings as the Church was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit she grew in numbers. (vs. 31) As I read those lines from today’s lectionary text and the following examples of healings by Peter (vs.32-42) I tried to catch the feeling of power that must have accompanied their work. I thought then of Peter’s history and wondered if it was difficult at that point for him to remember that the power came from the Holy Spirit and not from himself.
Sometimes it takes awhile for us to truly wake up to the gifts that we have been given for good. Like Peter, some of us are impetuous and dive into things without much thought. Our intentions are good but we jump too fast without considering all of the consequences. On the contrary some of us are too slow to move for fear of making a mistake. There comes a time, however, if we are motivated by pure love, when something shifts within us and we can look in the mirror and see our true face. At that moment – and ever thereafter – we are certain of the power of God that is our heritage and our strength. We let go of the desire to be someone extraordinary and are content and able to listen for what some have called “the still, small voice of God” that works in us and companions us in our every moment.
I trust that as the Church grew, Peter grew as well in humility, trust and confidence. I believe that we, too, have the possibility of such “success.”
This morning I find myself considering the concept of inspiration, a word that, in itself, has a complex history and many different – if related – meanings. It comes from the Latin inspiratus, the past participle of a verb that means to breathe into. In a concrete way, it tells us how we get air into our lungs which is, of course, the basic necessity for living. I found what I was looking for, however, in the answer to an internet question that asked, “What does it mean when someone says, You are my inspiration?” Here is what it said.
The definition of inspiration is “the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions; a person, place, experience, etc. that makes someone want to do or create something.” (Merriam-Webster)
My religious congregation, The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, like many others around the world, have seen significant change over the years, the inspiration for which has been a mix of necessity and response to needs. The most significant impetus for the change in my lifetime was the dictum of the inspired Second Vatican Council (1962-65) which called us to go back to the spirit of our founders and bring that vision to expressions appropriate to the modern world. This effort has initiated monumental changes over the past 50 years and continues to enlighten us about the mission that we have been given. We are often reminded of the six women who sat in a kitchen in Lepuy, France in 1648 discussing the needs of their immediate world and then went out to divide their city in response to those needs. Now we are everywhere in the world, doing our best through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to do the same.
Today we celebrate Agnes of Assisi, the younger sister of Clare, who followed St. Francis in 1221 and gathered around herself women of like mind. I was amazed as I read the list of places to which Clare sent her sister Agnes (beginning at the age of 24!), cities throughout Italy and then Spain. And that was just the beginning. By the turn of the century (1300) the foundations had spread to France and then jumped the Channel to England and beyond.
We often characterize the Holy Spirit as a fire – a great passion of love that moves people to great things – or small things in a great way, as Mother Teresa of Calcutta characterized possibility for most of us. I wonder at the greatness of heart of young women like Clare and Agnes and those who caught the call of God beaming out from their lives and followed. Where does that fire exist today and how can we fan the flames? How can any group of us make it our task to create together and to inspire others in the name of love?
Today we celebrate the outpouring of the power that we call the Holy Spirit. Every inspiration that leads us deeper into the transformation of our hearts in love is understood as an impulse of this face of God. This Spirit is as elemental as our breath, unseen but known in myriad ways great and small – universal and individual. It is as simple as the intake of my breath at the beauty of the burgeoning flowers in spring or as miraculous as the moment a young woman first holds her newborn child. The Spirit brings many gifts, taught in Christianity (traditionally and then in modern parlance) as wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel (right judgment), fortitude (courage), piety (reverence) and fear of the Lord (Wonder and awe in God’s presence).
Let us be grateful in this celebration as we pray: Spirit of the Universe, Spirit of my heart, I welcome you into my life. Come visit the places within me where Love has yet to find a dwelling place. Breathe within all of my existence with the power of your transforming grace. I open my entire being to you and thank you for the gift of your presence. Amen. (Prayer Seeds, p. 172)