Learning to be a spiritual storm chaser

May 15, 2013 | Life Lines

My May Life Lines column, currently running in the latest issue of Catholic New York, just in time for Pentecost:

I reluctantly went for a walk today, not because I wanted exercise but because I needed to get outside of my own head, and walking has a way of taking me to that particular interior destination. As I wandered through the neighborhood, the wind was whipping up, bending branches of the mighty oaks and pines and maples towering overhead, and for the briefest moment I felt as though the Spirit was blowing right through me.

By the time I returned home, I felt grateful, blessed, renewed. Suddenly my usual whininess seemed so small and unnecessary, and I marveled at what a short walk can do for the heart and soul and mind when the Spirit decides to make itself known.

I immediately sat down at my computer and noticed a friend’s request for prayers for her pregnant daughter, well past her due date and struggling with fear and a stalled labor. I had another message from a longtime acquaintance who shared feelings of guilt over her mother’s suicide many years before, and a third message from yet another friend who was on the threshold of what seemed like a devastating breakup.

As I responded to these emails, I felt an echo of that holy breeze that had buffeted me just a few moments before. I sent out a prayer-chain request for the pregnant friend. I emailed the grief-stricken friend with whatever words of comfort I could muster but then I reached out to another friend who has experienced suicide close to home and asked if she might have some words of wisdom to lift this person out of her darkness. Then I quickly sent a message of love and support to the friend feeling abandoned and afraid.

As I did all this—connecting people, sharing with people, asking for prayers, and offering sisterhood—I had the distinct feeling that something was changing in my life, that the wind that was physically swirling around me on my walk that morning was now figuratively swirling around me and trying to take me somewhere new, somewhere uncertain and maybe even scary.

With all this running through my head, I scrolled through some news stories and found a quote from Pope Francis’ homily earlier that same day:

“To speak plainly: The Holy Spirit annoys us…We want the Holy Spirit to sleep. We want to domesticate the Holy Spirit, and that just won’t do because he is God and he is that breeze that comes and goes, and you don’t know from where.”

Such wise words, and just when I needed to hear them. (The Spirit strikes again!) The Holy Spirit does annoy me on a pretty regular basis, what with all the goading me into things I don’t really want to do, pushing me to give up control and trust God, pulling me onto right paths with a subtle whisper or inconvenient shout or total spiritual smack down. But clearly the Spirit has been trying to get my attention lately.

Just this past weekend, as Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany confirmed my son, Noah, I couldn’t help but think the homily directed at the confirmands—the one about letting the fire of the Holy Spirit set our hearts ablaze with a passion for God and for others—was meant for me as well.

Wind and fire—such powerful forces of nature, such powerful images of the Spirit. No wonder we are so often scared or annoyed by the Spirit. How can we withstand such a force? We can’t, at least not if we want to walk the path God has set before us.

I still haven’t figured out where the Spirit wants to take me. I think I’ll have to become a spiritual storm chaser and sit in the silent eye of the hurricane, waiting—with a little fear and trembling—to hear the whisper that signals the direction I’m meant to take.

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful…”

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