When we think of the Spirit, we are inclined to have an ethereal, otherworldly image in our minds. But many of the images used for the Spirit in the Bible as a whole are very much this-worldly; today’s readings are no exception. The first reading is the story of Pentecost from the Acts of the Apostles where the images used are those of wind and fire. Wind recalls the very beginning of the Bible when “a wind from God swept over the face of the water,” pulling back the waters like a veil, as it were, to bring forth the earth. Fire is very much linked to the activity of the prophets as, for example, Elijah bringing down fire from heaven to witness to God’s word. The same wind and fire of the Spirit brings new creation and prophetic zeal to the disciples, as they set about spreading the message of Jesus.
In the gospel for the Vigil Mass the image for the Spirit is that of water: when the disciples receive the Spirit “from their breasts will flow fountains of living water.” As the Sequence of the Mass puts it, the Spirit will be like dew poured on our dryness. And in the gospel for the Day Mass, Jesus gives them the Spirit with his breath. Just as God through his breath is seen to give life in the second account of creation in Genesis (2:7), so the disciples are given the power to give life in their turn when the Spirit is breathed on them by Jesus.
A recent writer spoke of the Spirit as the “midwife” of creation; of physical creation, yes, but also of the creation of the life of Jesus within each of us and within the Church as a whole – renewing it in every age, as we are surely witnessing again in our time with the election of the new Pope.
Meister Eckhart had a strong appreciation of the groundedness of faith in the physical reality of our world. In fact he would go so far as to say: “Spirituality is not to be learned by flight from the world, or by running away from things, or by turning solitary and going apart from the world. Rather, we must learn an inner solitude wherever or with whomsoever we may be. We must learn to penetrate things and find God there.”
Sr Celine Mangan O.P