Posts Tagged ‘Holy Spirit’

Duty is not a dirty word

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

Today is Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples.

For the last ten days, my parish (St. Luke the Evangelist in Westboro, MA) has been praying the nine-day novena to the Holy Spirit. In the midst of this novena, a 40-hour devotion was held in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

I tried to live up to my duty and participate fully in this prayerful time but fell flat after the fifth day of the novena. Still, I was looking forward to mass this Sunday in my church.

However, duty called.

King George VI understood about duty, despite his stuttering which made speech making nearly impossible.

Attending to my duty

As some of you already know, my husband Rich is a deacon in the Melkite Church which is Eastern Catholic. The liturgy is celebrated in the Byzantine tradition. It is a beautiful celebration that touches greatly upon the mystery that is our faith.

My feet of clay

I am not always up to the lofty state of mind that one needs to be in to attend these liturgies. It requires that you stand for pretty much the whole hour. This is a challenge for my bad feet and sore back.

The liturgy is entirely sung. Everyone sings which is commendable but the singing isn’t always good. Unless I am caught up in the Spirit of God, the singing can prove to be quite distracting.

I am not proud of the fact that these minor matters get in the way of worshipping God during these liturgies. But they do.

I really wanted to worship at my parish where the music can soar. But duty came first.

Saying goodbye

Rich had told me earlier in the week that a longtime and key member of his church (Our Lady of Perpetual Help), Corinne, was leaving the state to be near her children. This woman had served Our Lady of Perpetual Help for 30 years and would be sorely missed.

Corinne had been one of many at Our Lady of Perpetual Help who had welcomed me as one of their own.  I wanted to say goodbye and wish her well.

Duty called, and I chose to attend liturgy at my husband’s church rather than our own.

Where duty led me

Each morning I dedicate my day to God with a prayer that Henri Nouwen prayed. In part it says, “I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me …”

I attended the liturgy. As a result, I experienced a gentle outpouring of the Spirit which I know I would have missed had I not done my duty.

The Spirit brings life

It began during the homily as Fr. Paul spoke of different times in the Scriptures when the Spirit was mentioned. He recalled Ezekiel 37 when the prophet Ezekiel saw the valley of dry bones come alive again into living, breathing people because he did his duty by obeying God and prophesying over them. A valley of bones rose to new life as a result.

The Spirit promises

Fr. Paul also mentioned Joel 2:28 and the promise of the Spirit:

It will come about after this
That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.

What had the Spirit done for me?

It was then that I began to reflect upon the remarkable yet quiet transformation that had been going on in my life since I lost my mother two years ago.

In thinking about those readings, I realized that I was like those dry bones in the valley, brought back to life. I was dreaming dreams again. All of this because of the outpouring of the Spirit into my life.

Personal Pentecost

I began to experience a personal moment of Pentecost, becoming suddenly very aware of God’s presence pressing in on me from all sides. Rather than feeling oppressed, I felt liberated, deeply loved, and grateful for the wondrous gift God had bestowed on me in the wake of my grief.

And all this I was privy to because I had opted to do my duty.

Duty can be beautiful

Doing one’s duty is the most basic reason for doing anything. But as frail humans, sometimes it’s all we’re capable of at that moment.

How wonderful God is that He will bless my performance of duty! Because I had demonstrated to Him an openness to whatever He had in mind for me, I was able to receive His blessing.

Duty had opened the door.

I had prayed it that morning and performed it through my duty: “”I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me …”

From Provincial to Radical: Getting Below the Surface

Friday, May 18th, 2012

I am currently re-reading Henri Nouwen’s last book, Sabbatical Journey The Diary of His Final Year. I read it years ago and found his honesty and vulnerability very moving. There is a journal entry for each day of his sabbatical, and each one sparks reflection.

from http://tennoshima.com/Events.html

In the entry from Tuesday, September 9, Nouwen mentions the occasional retreats he gave with friend Jonas and how Jonas could play the Japanese bamboo flute. He writes, “The amelodic music he plays on the shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute, allows people to experience God’s spirit in ways that words cannot express.”

Learning to stretch

In my reading of the gospels over the past year, I have been struck by a recurring theme: Jesus’ insistence that we get beyond our preconceived notions. As the great Spiritual Doctor, He diagnoses humanity with the affliction of narrow-mindedness: we practice our faith by clinging stubbornly to ritual, all the while being oblivious to the actual meaning. It’s easier (and safer) to blindly follow the rules rather than digging deep to understand their intent.

Jesus challenges us to be radical lovers and thinkers; He means to stretch us.

Leaders bound to ritual

This is evidenced by His repeated confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees, the most learned of the people. Despite their knowledge, these leaders adopt a provincial view of life through their observance of the Law. They flawlessly fulfill the rituals yet have no clue as to how the Law applies to their inner lives. It’s all about outward performance and it fuels their pride and arrogance, blinding them to the Son of God who stands before them.

Talking to myself

Rituals affect prayer too. I can use a parochial approach to prayer, doing my fifteen minutes a day mindlessly reciting my rote prayers and feeling a sense of accomplishment at performing my duty. I might as well be saying the prayers to myself. Jesus is waiting for me to sit at His feet and be with Him and I don’t recognize Him standing there before me.

Following the Spirit’s lead

In the book of Romans Paul writes, “the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26). In essence, prayer without the Spirit’s help accomplishes nothing.

Be, not do

The prayers we’ve been taught are good, reinforcing what we’ve learned. They prepare the heart. It’s the next step that requires a more radical approach and that involves acquiescing to the Spirit. My only task at that point is to allow Him to lead me.

It takes effort and fortitude to quiet myself and allow the encounter to begin. Then all effort ceases. And that’s when I sometimes wonder if, in fact, I am praying.

Is it prayer?

Sometimes a wave of peace and gratitude will flow over me.  The result is a sense of love and well-being that wells up inside. It surpasses words and instead, produces tears.

Other times I experience intense pain and swirling confusion, leaving me floundering and helpless.

If during those moments, I turn and face Jesus, they become prayer.

Music as a means to prayer

Nouwen’s description of Jonas’ music reminds me of how easily music leads me to these encounters. I feel almost guilty letting my collection of spiritual and classical music shuffle through my iPod as I drive into work. It’s too easy, there’s no effort.

And that’s when the encounter begins. It’s not my effort that produces prayer but the intercession of the Holy Spirit.

The preparation

Music prepares my heart and soul with a rhythmic kneading, softening what was once hard. I am then prepared to stretch out my hand and allow the Spirit to grasp it, leading me into the inner sanctum.

The experience

In there I could experience a myriad of things: the sense of being loved, deep sorrow for my sins, insight, consolation, maybe even nothing at all. No matter what I may or may  not feel, Jesus is as close to me as my own breath.

Openness to the gift

What a wonderful gift our Lord gives us through His Spirit when we open our minds and hearts and step outside of ourselves. This was the gift He longed to give to the Pharisees but they could not let go.

But like the cripple who, after being healed by Jesus, throws away the crutches and walks freely, I too can employ that same trust, knowing that God will extend His hand and lead me deeper into His heart, and closer to paradise.