I’ve had a special devotion to the Holy Spirit since I was about 8 years old. Many of the hymns we sang had a trinitarian structure, but in those days, we only ever sang two verses of a hymn. So the Father got a verse, and the Son got a verse, but we never sang the Holy Spirit’s verse! and I felt sorry for the Spirit, and would say extra prayers to the Spirit that night to try to make up for it.
Of course, we did sing “Come Holy Ghost” at Pentecost, and sometimes on other Sundays. I loved that hymn! and still do, and have been singing it all week, thinking about the baptism of the Lord and about the course I’ve just started.
Come Holy Ghost, Creator blest,
And in our hearts, take up thy rest,
Come with thy grace, and heavenly aid
To fill the hearts which Thou hast made,
To fill the hearts which Thou hast made!
O Comforter, to Thee we cry,
Thou gift of God sent from on high,
Thou font of life, and fire of love,
And sweet anointing from above,
And sweet anointing from above!
Praise be to Thee, Father and Son,
And Holy Spirit, with them one,
And may the Son on us bestow
All gifts that from the Spirit flow,
All gifts that from the Spirit flow!
I knew there were special gifts of the Spirit bestowed at confirmation. In sixth grade, when my religion class used a book that included a simple song in every chapter, I learned them:
Wisdom, understanding, counsel and fortitude,
Honor and piety, fear of the Lord:
Gifts of the Spirit, living within me,
Helping me live in the love of the Lord!
I had moved from one diocese to another when I was 9, and chased the age of confirmation up for years. My cousin, nine months older than I, was confirmed in 4th grade; I was finally old enough to be confirmed at 15, in 10th grade. But by that time, my understanding of confirmation was that, in addition to making my baptismal vows for myself, as my godparents had made them for me at my baptism, it meant I was an adult in the church. Well, I thought it was stupid to pretend I was an adult in the church when I wasn’t going to be treated like an adult in any other area of my life, so I decided to wait until I was 17, a senior in high school, so at least I would be confirmed and graduate from high school within a few months of each other.
I was an awkward, terminally shy kid, and it was hard for me to go through the year of preparation with kids two years younger than I was. It was even harder to go on the weekend retreat. I really, really didn’t want to do that: I went to the DRE and begged to be let off that requirement. She gently but firmly refused, saying it was important to go through this communal part of our preparation.
I’m so glad she did. That was the first retreat I’d ever been on, and I still have a few memories of it. We went to a retreat center in Newport, RI, and the best memory is of gathering for morning prayer before breakfast: not long after sunrise, in a circle on the docks, right by the water, right in the wind, the very chilly wind, as we all jumped up and down and rubbed our arms to keep warm waiting for everybody to arrive so we could start, pray, and run back up the hill to have breakfast.
(If the Holy Spirit is the breath of God, then the wind.. well, the wind is very like the breath of the Creator God who made the world and holds it in being. The wind is the image of the spirit of God who moved across the waters in creation. I’ve always loved the wind.)
As I grew older and became more painfully aware of the exclusive language used by the church, only my relationship with the Holy Spirit was unaffected, and even offered refuge. The Father, the Son: can you get more masculine imagery than that? But the Holy Spirit… the imagery of the Spirit was inherently gender-neutral, even though masculine pronouns were used. Then later, I learned that the Greek for “Wisdom” was Sophia, which meant it made perfect sense to use feminine pronouns for the Spirit. I learned later still about the Sophia tradition plumbed in more depth by feminist theologians like Elizabeth Johnson in her book She Who Is.
I pray to the Holy Spirit for inspiration, for enlightenment, for wisdom. As a singer, when serving as a music minister I pray to the Holy Spirit to breathe in and through me, that I may be transparent to the light of the gospel emerging from the texts that I sing, that the Spirit in me may shine through me to the assembly, to lift up their hearts and their voices in praise to God. When, in prayer, especially at the eucharist, I am filled with joy, I understand that in terms of the presence of the Spirit in me.
So it’s very weird to me, when I encounter people who say they never really learned much about the Holy Spirit, or never pray to the Spirit, or who confidently make generalizations like the Holy Spirit is the hardest Person of the Trinity for Christians to relate to. Not so for me, not so at all! For me it’s been exactly the opposite: I’ve always had a more intimate relationship with the Spirit than with the Father or the Son.
I do wonder how much of this has been affected by the gender issue. I have encountered women who have never had much of a relationship with the Spirit; but I’ve encountered a few who have a similarly Spirit-centered devotion. (I remember one woman told me that, in childhood, she had reasoned that if Jesus was the Son of God, then the Holy Spirit must be the Daughter of God.) Any readers want to weigh in on that?