June 10, 2011

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

The Holy Spirit may come to us in tongues of fire … or not

Cynthia DewesPentecost is at hand. This got me to wondering how many of us have experienced tongues of fire over our heads announcing the coming of the Holy Spirit. Not many, I would guess.

But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been inspired at times. Inspiration is the infusion of the Holy Spirit within us, and we’ve certainly experienced that.

Now, it would be a lot easier if inspiration struck like it did at Pentecost or when St. Paul got knocked off his horse and struck blind. I mean, who could ignore such things as that? We’re human after all, and humans need to have proof to believe anything. Just look at St. Thomas the Doubting, for whom I have a lot of empathy.

We believe sincerely in Christ, but it’s helpful to receive a shot of inspiration now and then to keep us on the path to meet God. And it’s also very human that we each receive inspiration in a different way. For many, it is prayer, devotion to the sacraments or spiritual practices, while for others it involves nature or charitable works.

I think this splendid variety of inspirational methods reflects God’s infinite variety and goodness. We are loved, and the Holy Spirit encourages and assists us in recognizing our divine lover.

Retreats have always been meaningful for me. Silent retreats with opportunities for quiet thought and prayer are helpful. Themed retreats are also valuable. I once attended a retreat which emphasized social and political justice. With that theme in mind, the evening meal was divided among us according to our assigned national economic status. First World countries like the U.S. received a tasty balanced meal with wine, Second World countries received basic nutrition but no frills, and Third World countries were given mostly rice and bread. It made the world’s problems and our reactions to them extremely vivid.

On the other hand, someone once told me that his way of retreat was not in a formal directed program, but rather in the experience of nature. He led Boy Scouts and his family on hiking, canoeing, camping and rock-climbing excursions, explaining that it was in the quiet and beauty of nature that he met God. And he led his companions to that realization as well.

Some people are inspired by furthering social justice. People like Dorothy Day and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, who not only helped the poor materially but also lived with them, experiencing their inferior housing, spotty nutrition and contempt from society. In the process of receiving inspiration, they’ve inspired us. As have friends dedicated to work with St. Vincent de Paul Society or Food for the Poor.

Personally, I find beauty of all kinds inspiring. Listening to music or singing it, viewing creations of art, and language can send me to a place outside of myself. Most of all, connecting with people always brings me in communion with God. Never mind Facebook or Twitter. Really listening to people and conversing with them in person, whether we know them well or not, makes for vastly superior intimacy—the kind we share with God.

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and if that’s true my eyes must be working overtime. Even the smile of a baby or the uncritical joy of Fred and Ginger wagging their tails to greet me never fail to capture me spiritually. As usual, the Holy Spirit is also working overtime.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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