Each one, as a good manager of God's different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. (1 Peter 4:10)

I Can Live With That (2)

A few things on my mind this Tuesday morning, not the least of which is that I haven’t been here writing for about a week, and I’ve realized that that hurts.

It hurts because writing is, for me, a necessary step in my spiritual life. It is something I know I am called to do — to write about my faith experience and spiritual (hopefully!) growth — and it feels like a necessary step in my personal lectio divina process: After I read, reflect, listen, and respond, I have a specific need to write so that I capture what I just experienced.

Over the past week or so, I’ve dealt with some nasty virus issues and just haven’t felt all that well physically. And sometimes, instead of rising above that to choose how I’m going to deal with it, I give in to just a touch of self-pity and allow myself to sit around in the midst of a bunch of nothingness.  And that space, I have discovered, is a space where not much growth or good happens. And I didn’t write. I thought about it a couple of times, but I didn’t ever just sit down and ask the Holy Spirit to set me to the work.

So not writing, I have discovered, has a reverse ripple effect. When I skip this step in my day, it isn’t long before I find I’m shortening my prayer time; the time I spend in prayer begins to feel dry and rote, and there is less and less joy in it. Bottom line: when I’m not answering my call to write (and thus share!) about my faith journey, things start to become all about me again, and that is just never going to be something that ends well.

I find myself thankful, this morning, to have received the grace to pray deeply and honestly for a renewal of spirit.

The path to this grace was kind of interesting. This past Sunday, I was invited to attend a prayer meeting at a local charismatic ecumenical community. I went with family, and we joined friends who belong to this community.

We were just a little late — not an unusual thing when one of your number is a little one who needs her naps! And as we opened the door to enter the space, we instantly felt the enormous energy in the room. There were close to 200 people, all singing and clearly very deeply engaged in this experience. I’m not fond of being in the midst of large groups of people, but this crowd had such a positive vibe going! I joined in the singing, found it to be a very emotional experience, and listened carefully to the message. All around me I heard the murmurs as people prayed aloud between the worship songs.

Now, I’ve never been very outwardly expressive in my participation in music and prayer and worship. Raising my hands during the Lord’s Prayer at Mass is about as far as that goes for me; I’m just not very demonstrative. And usually when I find myself in a situation like the one Sunday night, I feel just a bit pressured about participating, and I also feel very uncomfortable because it feels unnatural, and then I feel embarrassed because I’m not joining in the outward expression of my worship (but not as embarrassed as I feel when I try to join in clapping or other rhythmic activities and find myself completely out of sync with everyone else — no sense of rhythm here).

That wasn’t the case on this Sunday evening. What I felt was that I was surrounded by a sense of peace and love and that it didn’t matter how or whether I expressed my participation in it. It wasn’t about me, it was about God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — present in this gathering and working in each of us very individually. The response that engenders in me is stillness and listening, and sometimes deep emotion. And I felt perfectly at peace with my own responses. What made me so positive that God was at work here, and not just the personalities and expectations of people around me, was the deepening sense of peace that I experienced.

The young man who spoke at this meeting talked about “the baptism of the Holy Spirit,” and this is where I began to have some questions — questions I’ve been turning over in my head ever since. What I gleaned from his message is that in addition to our baptism with water (the baptism which makes us members of the Body of Christ), there is yet an additional experience, i.e., the baptism of the Holy Spirit, that we should both seek and expect.

My belief about baptism has always had its foundation in the words of John the Baptist in his encounter with Jesus at the Jordan River: “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming….He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16) When we profess and proclaim our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed, we state our belief in “one baptism,” and the sacrament of Baptism is a baptism of water as well as invocation of the Holy Spirit.

So when I think deeper into this message about “the baptism of the Holy Spirit,” I become cautious. What it comes down to is that I don’t like calling it a “baptism.” And I don’t think it is a matter of semantics; if I believe in “one baptism,” as the Creed expresses, then I do not and should not spend my time casting about for another baptism.

Once I get past that boulder in the path, I love to think about inviting the Holy Spirit — as the expression of the love between the Father and the Son, and therefore the Triune God — to fill me. This is a way to a deeper experience of my personal relationship with God. This is a path to turning my life over to God more and more with each day I live it. This is a moment, a moment that offers itself constantly fresh, to forget about what people call it and just let it fill me.

Remember, I came to this prayer meeting at the end of a week of increasingly negative feelings and spiritual dearthand dryness. I went into it (before we opened that door and walked into the wonderful energy there) with a sort of jaded “Wonder what this is gonna look like? Will people think I’m weird if I don’t act charismatic?” attitude. The music and singing took me out of myself and my growing spiritual ennui, and the Holy Spirit used the deep emotions the music and singing evoked as a way into my heart…a heart that was in some danger of hardening itself, I think.

Thus it was, at the end of the young man’s earnest message, when he invited us to pray for the Holy Spirit to come and fill us so that we might experience this baptism, I closed my own eyes and prayed simply for the Holy Spirit to come and own me, to come and renew my spirit. I remembered the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, when Jesus said that Thomas had spoke well of him and offered Thomas whatever he might ask for, and Thomas, with simple eloquence, responded that Jesus was all he needed. And in my deepest heart, I expressed my own need for Him. I offered my complete trust in Him, without reservation, knowing that He walks with me through whatever this world might throw at me. I asked simply, and yet again, for the grace to hear Him when He calls — and for the grace to have ears that listen for Him.

I don’t know if I’ll ever experience what charismatics call “baptism of the Spirit,” or the gifts that they describe — healing, speaking in tongues, and the like — but of this one thing I am absolutely certain: The Holy Spirit is with me daily, active in my life, and willing to drive my intentions and my actions and my words as long as I am open to Him and trusting in Him.

I can live with that.


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