I breathe a sigh of relief at Pentecost.
Easter has always seemed to me, despite the alleluias, a strange season of rumors and encounters, absence followed by momentary presence to a few of Jesus’ closest followers. There’s not a single mention in Scripture that his mother ever saw Jesus after the Resurrection. (That’s why I loved the icon that Marcus Halley shared with us showing Mary at the center of the wind and fire of Pentecost.)
I suspect that at least part of my discomfort with Easter may stem from self-centered longing to be among those chosen to encounter the risen Christ in person, such as Mary Magdalene, or Paul – but then every year Pentecost comes, and the Holy Spirit pours out grace upon grace on all of us. Pentecost reminds me that I do encounter the risen Christ daily: in the holy food of the Eucharist, and in the people around me. The Holy Spirit weaves us together with Jesus, and with one another. Jesus promised, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you [through the gift of the Holy Spirit].”
I treasure the promise of Pentecost. Every morning for over 20 years, beginning when my youngest child entered high school, I would stop in the kitchen at an icon of Christ that faced a photograph of my children when they were little.
I would touch my thumb to the center of Jesus’ hand, and then make the sign of the cross on those little boys’ foreheads, reciting words from their Baptismal Covenant: “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism, and marked as Christ’s own forever.” I did that, morning after morning, through their high school years, college, first jobs, love lives and heartbreaks, flirtation with poverty, moves that took them 3000 miles away and back again, marriages and first babies.
I needed to remind myself that wherever their lives took them, whatever choices they made, whatever blessings or disappointments they experienced, they were marked and sealed by the Holy Spirit forever. The hand of blessing in the icon looks like it needs a good wash, and the glass on the photo is smudged with thumbprints, but I leave them as outward and visible signs of the Holy Spirit’s presence in my children’s now middle-aged lives.
Despite a recent move that rearranged our icons as well as our address, the Holy Spirit remains part of my “kitchen prayers.” Every morning now, I light a small candle in front of an icon of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, and begin, cribbing liberally from the 23rd psalm: “Lord Jesus, whenever we are lost or gone astray, carry us home to green pastures and still waters. Restore our souls. Fill us with your Holy and life-giving Spirit, your deep abiding peace. Then lead us in paths of righteousness for your Name’s sake….”
It’s taken me a long time to learn that only “Then,” only after being filled by the Holy Spirit, do I have a chance of following those elusive “paths of righteousness.”
My morning prayers go on to embrace my children and grandchildren, all my loved ones, then out and out to include this broken world and those who suffer in it. If I’m not careful, my intercessions can lead me to obsess about the brokenness and then, without thinking, can lead me straight to the computer and down the rabbit hole of dysfunctional political frenzy.
The internet before breakfast does NOT lead me into paths of righteousness, but into despair. Only when I listen to the first words of my morning prayer – and heed them – can I discern what this moment’s “path” is meant to be, where the Holy Spirit may be calling.
And if I let myself listen, some days I can hear the Holy Spirit calling to me in the voice of a child: Come outside! Look at this beetle! Where are my muck boots? Let’s make a fruit kabob for the birds. Will you play with me?
And I do. The Holy Spirit, after all, calls us both to action and stillness, fierce integrity and playful wonder. She is the wind, the flame, the silence, the voice, the ongoing, eternal presence of God with us.
“Lord Jesus, fill us with your Holy and life-giving Spirit….”
And he answers, always: “Yes.”
How do you ask for the Holy Spirit to fill you and your loved ones?