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Today, on Pentecost Sunday, my church celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit to the early Christian church. I wore red, which is customary to symbolize how the first Christians saw “tongues of fire” indicating the presence of this spirit amongst them.
When I was very young, the church I attended with my mother used to refer to this spirit as “the Holy Ghost”, which was even more mysterious, and even after two years of catechism class, I really had no clue as to what this could really mean. In my later teenage years I became a believer in science and rationality, relegating “things of the spirit” (and most things religious) to the realm of superstition and mumbo-jumbo.
But as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that my habits of thinking are often quite irrational in spite of my best efforts. Simultaneously, I’ve grown more and more interested in spiritual practices and ideas, things like prayer and meditation and forgiveness and devotional reading, for example, and the wisdom I can gleen from them about better ways to live my life. I still have trouble with the word “spiritual”, but I liked some ideas I found today in this article by Brother David Steindl-Rast: about how a better word for spirituality might be “aliveness”; and how “aliveness” might be measured by the ability to be “in touch with reality, all of reality, and not have to block out certain aspects”; and how my habits of thinking can be what blocks my ability to be in touch with reality. Of course, it’s one thing to read about spiritual practices, and another thing entirely to actually practice them, and I have a bad habit of getting these two things confused. Even so, I occassionally have glimpses of what I think might be meant by “walking in the spirit”, enough to keep me trying to open myself up even more.
In his article, Brother David also mentioned poetry as a way to access the spirit, or one’s aliveness, and quoted poetry by T. S. Eliot. That reminds me of my favorite lines from Eliot’s poem The Four Quartets, East Coker, which I’ve pondered for years now, and which seem to tie right in with the fire of Pentecost and coming to discover more than a lifetime’s aliveness burning in each moment:
Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.