dove flying

To Live with the Spirit

Written on: June 28, 2021

A column by Sister Eileen White, GNSH, published in the Bucks County Courier 6/27/21.
Re-printed here with permission.

Many years ago, a Catholic bishop at a spirituality conference we attended in New Jersey spoke to the hundreds gathered about the Holy Spirit of God. At the end of his talk, he suggested to us that we memorize a poem, To Live with the Spirit, by a Catholic cloistered Sister-poet whose name was Jessica Powers. A friend and I set to work learning the poem. My friend can recite it to this day, without having to consult the text. I, on the other hand, even after multiple consultations, cannot get through the whole poem. Still, there are lines from that poem that DO stay with me.

To live with the Spirit of God is to be a listener . .
The soul that walks where the wind of the Spirit blows
turns like a wandering weather-vane toward love. . . .
Always it walks in waylessness, unknowing;
it has cast down forever from its hand
the compass of the whither and the why.

To live with the Spirit of God is to be a lover. 
It is becoming love . . .

Christians believe that the Spirit of God inspires, consoles, challenges, changes us, and teaches us all that we need to know to follow God’s commandment to love. In the Book of Genesis, the Spirit hovers over the abyss. Some translations say “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” A wind from God” is the way the Spirit is described, sweeping over the face of the waters. From that chaos, the Spirit of God creates light and everything we know as our universe. That same Spirit of God continues to work in our world, creating light where there is darkness, peace where there is turmoil, goodness and life where there is evil and death.

There are countless references to the work of the Spirit in the Hebrew scriptures as well as in the books and letters of the New Testament.

Can I go anywhere apart from Your Spirit? Is there anywhere I can go to escape Your watchful presence?   (Psalm 139)

But as Jesus was coming out of the waters, He looked up and saw the sky split open. The Spirit of God descended upon Him like a dove.     (Mark 1:10)

So, too, when we pray. We are weak and do not know how to pray, so the Spirit steps in and articulates prayers for us with groaning too profound for words.   (Romans 8:21)

Many Christians also pray a Creed which includes these words:

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. 

Jessica Powers writes that to live with the Spirit of God is to be a listener and a lover. People of many different faith traditions have embraced stillness, silence, and contemplation as ways to encounter God’s Spirit and so become more and more open to love. This so contradicts the multiplication of words that we also call prayer. Listening – walking in waylessness – waiting – and always turning toward love – these seem to be what we are called to, drawn to, in today’s darkness and chaos. I believe in, -nay I count on- the prayer of thousands who faithfully reject busyness and certainty and talk in favor of living with the Spirit of God. That means in the way we pray, yes, but also in the way we live our everyday lives, listening for the voice of the Spirit in the voices of our families, our friends, our spiritual guides, in those who call out to us for help, in those who beg us for forgiveness, in those who challenge us to change our hearts.

I find it very challenging to be still, to be silent, to listen. Yet I know how essential it is to reflect on my daily life, and I am inspired and encouraged by the many Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists who, as Jessica Powers expressed it, “lean to catch the stirring of the Spirit, strange as the wind’s whim.” What is it like for you to pray, to live, as listener and lover?  Do you walk “where the wind of the Spirit blows”?[1]

[1] Morneau, Robert F.  Mantras from a Poet: Jessica Powers.  Sheed & Ward.  ©1991 Robert Morneau.

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