Our first reading this morning has a lot of drama, and for many people, drama is what the Holy Spirit is all about: tremendously changed lives, miracles of healing and deliverance form danger, and flamboyant worship. To me (and maybe to some others), the second reading is more descriptive of our experience of the Holy Spirit: deep inside, carrying us through life in hidden ways. The drama might come every once in awhile, but mostly, we know that the Holy Spirit is there, in us and on us, as a lover’s breath, covering us with no need for drama or even for words (because words can’t express what our lover is to us). Without that breath of our lover in us and on us, we have no life. In fact, we are alive because God took the dust of our planet, formed us, and breathed his spirit into our lungs, bringing us to life, kissing us into existence. God our lover can’t seem to stop giving us gifts. The entire universe is a token of God’s love for, and infatuation with, us. Every sight, smell, sound, and touch is a reminder of our lover’s breath on us and in us – so close that usually we do not know that it is there. In fact, it is so close that sometimes we fear that it is gone. That is when it is most important to remember to not rely on our feelings, but rather on our faith that God is with us and for us, and God’s Holy Spirit is the basis of our existence. One time, a preacher on television said a very smart thing. It was a snowy winter day several years ago, the Lions were losing, it was halftime, so I flipped around the channels, and came across the preacher who said: “People are mistaken about love. Love is not made in bed. Love is celebrated in bed. Love is made earlier in the day, cooking, cleaning, earning a living. If that does not happen, then there is not much to celebrate, and it soon grows old and bothersome.”
That is a good warning to us in our relationship with God, in whatever vocation we are working out that relationship – monastic life, family life, parish life. The truth is, the excitement will all go away in all those vocations. That is normal, right, and good. The tragedy comes with our sadly mistaken conclusion that because the excitement is gone, the vocation is over. Pentecost only comes once a year. After that , the drama is over, the intimate love-celebration is over, and we have to get on with life. As long as we keep making love, though, it will come back at times. It will never stay, but it will always be coming back, usually when we least expect it, and it is always better than before, because we are more comfortable with it, and can be more active, mature partners. But, it does not last. The celebration does not last, but the work of love must never end, if we ever want the celebration. Wanting only the celebration without the work is like a teenage romance where we think all that matters is how we feel, because we think we are the center of everything.
That is why God has so graciously given us all the irritating details and people that inhabit our respective vocations. They are opportunities for us to get over ourselves so that the Holy Spirit has more room to fill when we let him in. Of course , it is up to us to make the choice of using those irritations to help us grow more humble, rather than to use them to grow angry, frustrated, and even more self-centered. It is up to us to cultivate our relationship with God, and the way we do that is to cultivate the relationships and situations that surround us everyday. Whether or not we are in the monastery, in a family, or in a parish, we must use that vocation as the means of our growth in holiness and happiness. All the private prayer, scripture reading, and self examination involved in our chosen way of life must be pursued with good intent, as well as the public aspects of work, social life, and public prayer. Without that, we have no basis for opening up to the Holy Spirit, either for the drama described in the Book of Acts, or the intimacy described in the Letter to the Romans. As the saying goes: “If you are not as close to God as you once were, which one of you moved?” It certainly is not God who moves away from us.
The Holy Spirit is given to all freely, but we must take the initiative to open up that gift and make sure there is room inside of us to house the Holy Spirit. The excitement of God breaking into our lives will come and go, but the true work of love is up to us to manifest. We must learn to love God, not just the way God makes us feel sometimes; we must learn to love our vocations, not just the way our vocations make us feel sometimes; we must learn to love people, not just the some people make us feel sometimes, and we must learn to love ourselves, not just the way we make ourselves feel sometimes. As we establish those patterns of truly making love: all the everyday tasks of cleaning, answering difficult telephone calls and letters, driving guests to and from the airport and train station, cooking, getting up early to pray, reading scripture and studying, showing mercy when confronted with each others’ personalty quirks, then all of that becomes its own celebration of love – so deep that we can’t express it, because we have made so much room in our hearts that the Holy Spirit is at levels too deep for us to even know that he is there. But he is there, and we are mature and spiritual enough not to need to feel it. Rather, we know it. We know God. We know ourselves. We know our neighbors. And we see how truly beautiful all of us are – beautiful enough for God to desperately want to inhabit each of us, deeply and eternally.
So, today we can talk about excitement, intimacy, and goosebumps. Tomorrow it is back to cultivating our lives to make all that possible. AMEN