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The Holy Spirit still breathes fire

In the coloring books and flannelgraphs of my childhood, the disciples of Pentecost stood erect with red teardrops upon their heads. They looked like rows of lit matches. My religion teacher wore her hair in a low bun that covered her ears and told us that on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit arrived like a violent wind. The rest of the class was wondering if she actually had ears under that black hair, but I was wondering how those flames stayed lit. Wouldn’t they blow out?

Forty years later, my mind is still foggy when I try to wrap it around thoughts of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of Trinity. Like 5-year-old me, I can’t reconcile the metaphors of the Holy Spirit as both fire and wind. It wasn’t until recently that it made more sense to me.

My family was spending a long weekend in a rented cabin on Orcas Island when the fire in the wood-burning stove went out. I grabbed another log but couldn’t find the matches. While my kids went to find another box, I saw that the wood left at the bottom of the stove still had some life in it. I exhaled, directing my breath upon it. It glowed red hot with each breath, until it found the new kindling and set it ablaze. And I saw breath and fire working together.

Sometimes, this is me. I am just barely alive. My faith is lukewarm, room temperature, tepid. I’ve lost any sort of enthusiasm or excitement about my faith — and I didn’t even realize it happened or was happening. I exist on autopilot. I dip my fingers in the holy water, I whisper prayers, I stand up, I sit down. Yet, in my heart, I have forgotten.

Scripture says Christ told the disciples that once the Spirit arrived, they would understand Christ’s teaching. I like the way the poet Malcolm Guite puts it: “Today the church draws breath at last and sings.” It evokes images of a child being born, taking those first breaths of air, just as the arrival of the Spirit at Pentecost birthed our church. And for those at Pentecost, when the Spirit breathed upon them, they finally understood the parables Christ had told them and how the prophets of the Old Testament were speaking of him.

This is the beauty of our church calendar. Just when I begin to notice something is missing, we enter into a season of fire. Not only did Pentecost happen 2,000 years ago, but it happens again today as we call “Come, Holy Spirit.” He arrives rekindling our love, our understanding, our faith. Breathing new life within us.

St. Catherine of Siena understood this as she prayed, “You, God, light coals of fire with the love that eventually melts hatred and bitterness from the hearts and minds of those who are full of anger. It will even turn their hatred into tenderness.”

Come, Holy Spirit, come. Breathe into us a new fire that we may again be captivated by your flame.  

Read the Spanish version of this column.

Northwest Catholic - May 2020

Shemaiah Gonzalez

Shemaiah Gonzalez, a member of St. James Cathedral Parish, is a freelance writer with degrees in English literature and intercultural ministry. Find more of her writing at shemaiahgonzalez.com.
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Shemaiah Gonzalez, miembro de la parroquia de la Catedral de Saint James, es escritora independiente con diplomas en Literatura inglesa y Ministerio Intercultural. Puedes encontrar más de sus redacciones en: shemaiahgonzalez.com.

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