By Sister Renee Yann
Come, Holy Spirit! It is a prayerful invitation we have offered innumerable times in our lives. How many Pentecosts have we lived through? How many sacred events have begun with this heartfelt plea?
But have we really thought about what we are requesting?
Picture the assembled disciples 50 days after Easter. They have just experienced the profound spiritual upheaval of Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection. In the aftermath, there are imprisonments, angelic deliveries, crippled people suddenly walking, dead people coming back to life. Their comfortable lives have been turned upside down!
Jesus has made a few appearances to help root their topsy-turvy world in the memory of his promises. But he is no longer physically present to them, having ascended into heaven just a few days past, in itself a bit of an astounding event!
Slowly but surely the disciples begin to realize that the work of on-going salvation has fallen on them. So they pray continuously, just as we might when we are a little overwhelmed by our reality.
On this particular day, the small community likely gathered for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks, which celebrates the wheat harvest. Jewish tradition also holds this date as the one on which Moses received the Law on Mount Sinai. Shavout is determined by the date of Passover, occurring about seven weeks after.
Wrapped in this treasured religious legacy, the small community joins in prayer. Still honoring their Jewish heritage, they open their hearts to the God Who is writing a new covenant of love over all Creation. They are not unlike Moses as he walked to the top of Sinai, clueless to what the Fire might ask of him.
And suddenly there came from the sky
a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,
which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
The Holy Spirit arrives in chaos – bolting from the sky, shaking the walls, and threatening to set their hair on fire. It was an amazing gift from heaven, but it had to be scary! It taught the disciples, and it teaches us, a critical lesson.
“Come, Holy Spirit” is a dangerous prayer! Don’t say it if you don’t want to be shaken out of your routine, blown off course, and ignited with a grace that refuses half-heartedness.
“Pour out your Spirit” is a prayer of continual conversion:
- It resists expectations, normalization, definition and institutionalization.
- It demands that we are always ready to hope, to be surprised, to change.
- It asks us to see possibility everywhere because God has drenched the world in love and mercy.
- It asks us to find a new language of peace where the old words have failed.
- It calls us to be agents of its fierce generosity by sharing the gifts of Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord wherever these are needed.
After the tornado settled and the rafters fell back in place, the disciples were changed people. We will be too if our prayer is open and poised on the edge of hope. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we become the means by which Christ lives in our own time. It is a wildly unsettling blessing offered by this breath-giving prayer, “Come, Holy Spirit.”
As Henry Nouwen writes:
“Without Pentecost the Christ-event – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – remains imprisoned in history as something to remember, think about and reflect on. The Spirit of Jesus comes to dwell within us, so that we can become living Christs here and now.”
May we, and our whole Church which celebrates its birth today, have the courage to pray this prayer and to live its answer.