I remember the moment when I realised that I could have a personal relationship not just with God the Father, or Jesus Christ the Son, but also with the Holy Spirit. It was during a Sacrament of Reconciliation more than 7 years ago. I had confessed my ongoing struggle to temper my passion and zeal for evangelisation with compassion, mercy and patience. Again and again I felt that I had wounded the very people I sought to love and bring to the Lord, and I was at a loss at how to hold the tension between zeal and compassion.
The priest at the other side of the screen paused for a moment after I had finished and then asked, “What is the image of God you have in this season of your life?” Without hesitation I replied, “He is a fire – a blazing fire.” “Ah… the Holy Spirit,” my confessor replied. “Ok then, here’s your penance. Since it is the Holy Spirit who has set you on fire, you ask the Holy Spirit to teach you how to use that fire. For the next week, pray the Veni Creator Spiritus every morning with that intention.” (Read about this prayer here.)
It was a Eureka moment for me – it had never occurred to me before that moment to ask the Holy Spirit to TEACH me how to use the fire that had been lit in me. So I asked to be taught, and I have not stopped asking explicitly for the Holy Spirit to teach and guide me since. Just doing this has transformed my lived experience of the relationship I have with God.
I had never noticed before that time how very close the Holy Spirit always was with me. But once I started taking notice, I realised that in some ways the Holy Spirit was even closer to me than God the Father or the Son was. The Holy Spirit was always there “first” to open the eyes and ears of my heart to the presence of God. I have experienced the Holy Spirit at work as the whispered promptings of God gently nudging my heart; and I have experienced the Holy Spirit like a sudden thunderclap that startles me into attention to God’s presence. I have felt the Spirit’s presence as a gentle flame that keeps me warm, as a long drink of water when I am spiritually parched, and as a blazing fire in moments filled with the mighty glory of God. I have felt the Spirit bring me to wordless contemplation when I am in prayer, and I have experienced the out-pouring of words I did not know I had given to me by the Holy Spirit when I am sent to give some message of truth and love. I have witnessed the effects those words have on others even though I cannot explain – when I am asked – how it was that I knew the exact words to say that they had needed to hear.
Yet the most powerful way I experience the Holy Spirit is as the Finger of the Divine Physician touching some part of my being and calling it forth for healing. When I begin to notice a pattern of struggle in my life – perhaps in a relationship, or in some unruly emotions that have suddenly emerged, or in an old struggle with a familiar compulsion or addiction, I have come to recognise that it is because God is calling forth something deeply buried within me into the light. It is as if some part of me is Lazarus in the tomb and Jesus is calling out, “Lazarus, come forth!” When I hear this command, I know there will be pain and discomfort ahead of me, and yet my heart leaps at the sound of my Beloved’s voice and becomes stirred with desire to obey. And when I do come forth, it is the Holy Spirit who unbinds me and sets me free from my bondage.
When I am restless and anxious, it is the Spirit who calms me. When I am afraid, it is the Spirit who fills me with God’s love. When I am lost, it is the Spirit who guides me. When I am ignorant, it is the Spirit who teaches me. When I have sinned, it is the Spirit who fills me with parrhesia and the bold humility to seek reconciliation without undue shame. And when at times I inadvertently succumb to shame and anxiety or discouragement, it is the Holy Spirit who lifts and redirects my eyes away from fixating on my smallness to beholding the infinite love, power, and mercy of God who saves me.
My life verse is John 2:5 – “Do whatever He tells you.” The Holy Spirit is the one who disciples me, who teaches me to wait on the Lord’s command, to listen attentively, and the one who gives me the power to obey. The Holy Spirit reveals to me the deeper reality of the world around me and shows me where to walk and what to speak so that I might be the unique icon of Christ I was created to be – and so to bring His radiant presence in some small but significant way to those who need Him.
Pentecost has never been the same since I came to know the Holy Spirit in person. He is the Gift – all the other gifts He brings with him can only be enjoyed in their fullness in relationship with Him. So as another Pentecost draws near, I pray that you – dear reader – will find yourself drawn nearer too to this great Advocate, Teacher and Friend. And may it transform your relationship with God as it did mine!
Holy Spirit, Lord of light,
From Thy clear celestial height
Thy pure beaming radiance give.
Come, Thou Father of the poor,
Come with treasures which endure,
Come, Thou Light of all that live.
Thou, of all consolers best,
Thou, the soul’s delightsome Guest,
Dost refreshing peace bestow.
Thou in toil art comfort sweet,
Pleasant coolness in the heat,
Solace in the midst of woe.
Light immortal, Light divine,
Visit Thou these hearts of Thine,
And our inmost being fill.
If Thou take Thy grace away,
Nothing pure in man will stay;
All his good is turned to ill.
Heal our wounds; our strength renew;
On our dryness pour Thy dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away.
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.
Thou, on those who evermore
Thee confess and Thee adore,
In Thy sevenfold gifts descend:
Give them comfort when they die,
Give them life with Thee on high;
Give them joys that never end.Veni Sancte Spiritus