The feast day of Pentecost is such a dramatic and colorful event in the bible. I love the readings we just heard – the Numbers passage has God coming down in a cloud, speaking to Moses, and then taking some of the Spirit that was on him and putting it on the 70 elders who were then empowered to prophesy. This image is reflected in the wonderful Acts passage. This time God comes as a violent wind that fills the house and brings tongues of fire to rest on each of the disciples, who are then empowered to speak in other languages.
What are we to make of these stories? Do we just passively listen to them as ancient echoes from times past or do they come alive in our lives? Do we sense the Holy Spirit present in our lives today?
I imagine everyone sitting in this church has felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. I bet you can recall with deep reverence some moment in your life when you caught a glimpse of the Divine Presence - maybe in a little sacred moment, like when you look into the eyes of your first grandchild, or possibly a great big mountain top moment that changed your life. Or maybe a moment of profound peace led you to feel the Presence of God.
I know for me it was in 1976 at the end of my very first yoga class. I had worked terrifically hard twisting and contorting for 90 minutes and when I laid down on my little towel (this is before there was such a thing as a yoga mat) something happened. I let go in some way I had never done before. I felt like I was expanding – I felt a sense of spaciousness. It was profoundly peaceful. I felt like my boundaries were melting and I was merging with everything and everyone. I felt so much love and such utter contentment I didn’t want it to ever end. I pondered, “what is this? How do I find this bliss again?”
All too soon it ended, and I was back to my normal self. But it left me hungry for more, so I started attending yoga 5 times a week, but I never again repeated that experience of divine bliss. What was that?
I didn’t have the language to understand it, but 23 years ago I found myself waking into a church and quite quickly falling in love with Jesus. I fell in love with the bible and the great spirituality of this path. Now I call what happened an encounter with the Holy Spirit.
I developed a Christian meditation practice which enables me to regularly enter into what Father Richard Rohr calls the Grace Field. By quieting my busy mind, I allow my being to resonate with the indwelling Divine Presence or Holy Spirit and experience a sense of the peace that passes all understanding.
In the Gospel passage from John, Jesus appears to the disciples and says, “Peace be with you,” and then again after they realize it is truly him, the risen Christ he says again “Peace be with you.” The word for peace is Shalom which is a Hebrew word that means far greater that peace. Shalom is more like Wholeness or Completion. Then after repeating this, he breathes on the disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Just as God breathed into the face of the first humans in Genesis, so Jesus does to his disciples.
Do you think this breath of love and Holy Spirit is only for those present in that room with Jesus? Or do you think we are all invited to participate in the Divine Nature by taking into ourselves the breath of the Holy Spirit of God. Remember what Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit.
I love the spirituality of Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. He encourages us to use these stories to activate the imagination – so we can engage or enter the stories and bring meaning from them right into our own lives.
So from the extraordinary stories today, we see that we are invited to the peace or wholeness and to draw into our selves the Spirit of God which is of course Love. We will then participate in the divine nature – finding forgiveness and maybe even speaking prophecy.
We all know that it isn’t easy to maintain the awareness of the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. I live in a monastery and pray multiple times a day in an effort to remember God’s presence in my life. But really one of the most powerful spiritual practices is to simply remind myself that I can breathe in the Love of God. I do this countless times a day and it instantly calms me and centers me.
Let’s try it. I invite everyone to close your eyes – take a nice long breath and imagine as you draw breath into yourself that it is the Love of God – or the Holy Spirit. Feel the sense of the Spirit coming into you and charging every cell of your being with light and love. On your exhale imagine letting go of anything that is not of God.
And now having immersed yourself in the love of God go forth and be God’s love in the world.
The Rev. Sr. Greta Ronningen, CDL