Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What is an Experience of the Holy Spirit?

It's a question that has stayed with me over the years.  What is an experience with the Holy Spirit?  My sister asked it of me when she was preparing for confirmation, 17 years ago. What she was asking was essentially, how do you know when God is using life to instruct you and offering grace if you aren't fortunate enough to see flames or begin speaking in tongues or see the Spirit descend?  How in this scientific empirical world, can we know God is with us? 

The Holy Spirit has always been to me, my closest touch to God.  When I was very young, my parents took me to a charismatic retreat.  They told me they would pray for my throat to be healed.  That weekend, I remember there being a pool and wanting to swim.  I remember my mother cleaning my tracheotomy and bandages in the hallway of our home.  She didn't tell me she had plugged me up.  It was the first time I was ever able to talk and not turn instantly blue after having the artificial airway closed.  It was a healing that hadn't happened in six years of trying until we asked once more. 

Two years later, when the tracheotomy was finally removed, my father took me to a jewelry store and bought her a golden sand dollar necklace with the date engraved on it.  He told me I could pick out anything I wanted.  There were bunnies and butterflies and flowers and hearts.  I picked a descending dove.  I still wear a replica of that medal today.

My oldest daughter is receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit on Wednesday.  And I am still seeking a means to tell her the answer to that question my sister asked of me so long ago.  It is hard to explain except in context, for the Holy Spirit is always infused into our lives, always permeating everything, always seeking to saturate our lives with the fullness of God's love.   When my sister asked this question, I farmed it out to all the people I knew who held their faith lives dear. 

The result was a collection of letters including a story by my dad about his brother who through and despite his madness, was used by the Holy Spirit to serve the hidden poor with his generosity. My Uncle loved deeply and suffered greatly but he was fun; he could take in the poor even as he was being taken in by the poor.  This man with the tattoos also put up reminder notes in the bathrooms for his brothers and sisters to pray for me when I was first born.  He also made everyone get up in the middle of the night to say the rosary.  He was also my sister's Godfather.  The Holy Spirit specializes in tapestry weaving of our lives.  What we see as loose ends, God uses to tie others into our lives and all those in Heaven hope we will recognize the patterns of this great tapestry and seek to follow along.  

There are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; wisdom, understanding, good counsel, courage, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord.  We can know we are of the Holy Spirit and acting from the Holy Spirit by the fruits of our actions; charity (or love), joy, peace, patience, benignity (or kindness), goodness, longanimity (or long suffering), mildness, faith, modesty, continence, and chastity. The fruits cannot come except through the gifts and all reveal God's love and our love for God and others.  We can know when we are not acting in the Holy Spirit if we encounter ourselves engaging in the opposite of these fruits.  It's not difficult to recognize, though it is often difficult for us to comply.

The impulse to think of someone else, to do something, to say something, to offer a compliment when none is called for, to pick up the phone to speak to someone we love just because we love them, these are the whispers of the Holy Spirit to us, calling us to be luminous to others. We do not need to be sane or well or young or old to hear and follow those whispers; only listening and obedient.  Anytime we act beyond what we wanted to, serve more than we wished to, did more than required but with willing hearts, we are being luminous towards others and we are following the whispers of the Holy Spirit. 

So I'll ask for your prayers for my daughter and all the daughters and sons that prepare for this sacrament, and that there lives may be luminous mysteries, permeated with the Spirit.  For it is only in the weaving of all of our lives with God's love, that we will make the world into a cloak of pure beauty. 


P.S. And if you want to share an experience of the Holy Spirit to help flesh out the fullness of what it is to experience the whispers of God, I will present these to my daughter along with my own.


Anonymous said...

And I say thanks too for your gifts of humor, wisdom, courage, knowledge, wonder and awe. Love you-Mom

Roz said...

I came to real faith in the context of a charismatic community, so I have no experience of vibrant Christian life apart from having experienced the Baptism of the Spirit. I asked a friend once about it - what were the experiences or elements that were "experiences of the Holy Spirit", as you put it.

She said, "You know that sensation of something in you responding, yearning, inclining, cheering sometimes when you hear God's word, are in prayer, or otherwise encounter him? That's the Holy Spirit.

God and I have a deal: I will try to respond to inclinations that seem to me might be from the Holy Spirit, and would he please keep me from doing anything wrong or stupid. That's worked pretty well so far. :-)

God's blessings on your daughter.

MightyMom said...

That was beautiful Sherry thanks for sharing

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