Category Archives: Holy Spirit

Alone Together

by Marjorie George

young hand holding and elder oneWe’re just a group of women who are determined to step back from our busy lives for one hour a week.  We are of various shapes, sizes, and colors – some of us just beginning our careers, some of us retired, some of us with kids at home, some of us empty-nesters, some of us lawyers, some of us artists, some of us social workers. 

Outside of our weekly gathering we rarely see each other; we have no idea what church each of us attends. Or if we even attend a church. We don’t go to lunch after the meeting.

We come and join the circle and do not speak to each other.  We read a few pages – together but silently – from a small booklet by Thomas Merton designed for groups such as this. Then we sit.  

And then it happens – the Holy Spirit becomes known among us. And one by one, as we are led, we speak what we have just discovered that we have known forever. There is no cross-talk; there is only this incredible sense of togetherness as we each offer some thoughts (or not – speaking up not required). And we smile at each other and nod in agreement. The spirit has broken through our individualism and knit us together, though we do not debate or offer another point of view or feel a need for a clever response. 

Sometimes I read our assigned material ahead of time and am not inspired; then when I read it again in the company of the others, all sorts of new understanding is revealed.  We are walking on the road to Emmaus, and later we marvel that our minds were opened when the Spirit walked with us (see Luke 24:32). 

Notice the instances in Scripture when Christ speaks of sending the spirit – the disciples were together for the Passover meal (John 14:26), or were together behind locked doors because they were afraid (John 20:22). On the great day of Pentecost, the disciples were “all together in one place” when the spirit came upon them (Acts 2:1). 

Such is the power of the spirit among the community gathered.  And the community is always gathered somewhere. As I go to bed on Saturday night, the church in Hong Kong comes together for Sunday morning worship.   As I awake on Sunday morning and begin a time of private meditation, the Christian community in Jerusalem is getting ready for close-of-day prayers.

There’s even an app for that – Insight Timer meditation timer (search the App Store) shows that around the world 205 persons who are linked to the app are meditating at this very moment. When two or three, or 205 – are gathered together, said Christ, there I am in the midst of them. 

 “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes,” said Jesus to Nicodemus. “So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:8, 6).

Clearly, the spirit pulls up a folding chair and joins our little circle once a week, inspiring us, nudging us, giving us clarity, one by one by one.

It is the absolute best conversation I‘ve ever had.

 

Our group gathers on Wednesdays at noon at Viva Bookstore in San Antonio. If you want to know more about this group, please email me at marjorie.george@dwtx.org. 

Our group uses the Bridges to Contemplative Living series edited by Jonathan Montaldo and Robert G. Toth of the Merton Institute for Contemplative Living. It is available at this link:

https://www.avemariapress.com/series/1/The-Bridges-to-Contemplative-Living-Series/

Marjorie George is the editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at Marjorie.george@dwtx.org.

 

 

To Jump or Not to Jump

by Marjorie George 

Hills of Galilee
Hills of Galilee

Jesus was in the wilderness. He was to spend 40 days listening for the voice of God and discerning the way forward for his ministry, recently launched at his public baptism (Matthew 3-4).  Angels ministered to him, but the devil was also about, offering helpful suggestions.  “If your ministry is to feed a hungry world,” proposed Satan, “why not just turn these stones into bread?”

“No?

“How about this: jump off the pinnacle of the temple and see if angels catch you mid-flight.  If they do, you’ll know that you truly are called to this ministry.”

Ah, there it is – the temptation to certainty.  The seeking of the imprimatur

“Here I am, Lord, send me,” we proclaim with all sincerity. “I’m yours, Lord, show me the way. “And since I’m a little bit stupid (doubtful, afraid, hesitant) please make it abundantly clear.”

It’s a valid question: How do we know if we are called to a particular ministry serving God’s people both within and outside of the walls of the church?

Let’s go back to Jesus. Scripture tells us he was led – some translations say driven – into the desert by the Spirit (Matthew 4:1). He spent 40 days concentrating on God, not even eating. He knew his Scripture. He was accustomed to prayer. Those were the foundations of his life; those were his daily habits – even before he was tapped by the Spirit in baptism.

We will say, “Sure, but he was God – He knew everything.” But we must never forget that Jesus was also fully human: he hurt just like we hurt; he doubted just as we doubt; he knew times of sorrow, and anger, and joy just as we are sometimes sorrowful and angry and joyful.

But Jesus practiced holy habits. Notice that throughout his ministry, Jesus did not squeeze into his busy life time for personal prayer, meditation, and Bible study. He did not proclaim that his ministry was his prayer or rely on personal charisma to get him through.

What started with his baptism – withdrawal from the world for time alone with God – continued throughout his life and ministry. When he learned that his friend and cousin, John, had been beheaded, he went away to a deserted place by himself (Matt14:13). After feeding the five thousand, Jesus immediately “went up the mountain by himself to pray” (Matt 14:23).  When the night of greatest temptation was at hand, Jesus was found in the garden, praying (Luke 22:42).

It was his custom to go away and pray, for Scripture tells us that he would often “withdraw to deserted places and pray” (Luke 5:16).

He encouraged his disciples to do the same; after a time of intense ministry, Jesus, recognizing that his disciples were tired, invited them to “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while” (Mark 6:31).

By this, Jesus was filled with the Spirit. In Streams of Living Water, Richard Foster says, “Nothing is more satisfying to observe than how Jesus lived and moved in the power of the Spirit.” As he rose from the waters of baptism, points out Foster, “the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove” (Luke 3:22). After the temptation encounters, Jesus went back to Galilee “filled with the power of the spirit” (Luke 4:14).

We have already noted that Jesus was led by the spirit into the wilderness (Luke 4:1). “Such is the refrain that echoes down through his entire ministry,” says Foster. “Full of the Holy Spirit . . . Led by the spirit . . . Filled with the power of the spirit . . .”  

Do we see the connection? Being more in touch with God’s Holy Spirit occurs in direct proportion to spending time alone with God in prayer.

Will we then be certain of the way forward? Sometimes. Sometimes we will know in our heart of hearts that we are in the right place at the right time and that God is with us. Sometimes we will be absolutely sure, though others may try to dissuade us. Sometimes we will be given clarity.

And sometimes not. But there is a prayer for that, too. It is the prayer of Thomas Merton; you have heard it before, but I am telling you again. Say it with me:

“My Lord God,

I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

“But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire . . .” (From Thoughts in Solitude).

Everybody ready? Hold hands and jump. Or head for the desert with me. 

Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org.

cover imageMore on the Spirit

The Spring/summer 2013 issue of Reflections magazine is now online with a focus on the Holy Spirit. Click here to read the entire issue or individual articles.

 

When Way Closes

By Marjorie George 

I have told this story before, so spoiler alert if you have already heard it.

closed doorWhen I was 38 years old, I went back to college. I had spent my adult working life as a free-lance magazine writer and decided I needed a steady job with a stable income. I would go and teach high school English and journalism.

I had finished only two years of college before getting married (oh, foolish girl) and now – with a husband and two middle-school-aged children – was determined to get my degree and teaching certification.  It looked like a long road ahead at the time. And I was not at all sure I could compete in the college-kid arena. But I worked hard, studied harder, pushed through, kept up my determination, made good grades, until I was one semester away from graduation and certification. The end was in sight. 

Now, at the time – it may still be this way – the last thing in the teaching curriculum was the student-teaching semester in which we aspiring teachers were put into the classroom with a supervising faculty-member. Usually it was at a local public school.

I was put into an eighth-grade-English classroom. Eighth grade. Thirteen-year-olds.

It was a disaster. I was awful. I was a horrible eighth-grade teacher. The students knew it. And my supervising teacher knew it. And I knew it.

I got my degree and my certification, but I never again stepped foot into a public school classroom. I was not a teacher. Two years, hard-fought years, down the drain.  I was numb. I was heart-stricken. I screamed and hollered. What the hell happened?

I went back to free-lance writing and a few years later, I don’t even know why, returned to college again to get my master’s degree in communications. I had no plans to teach, but an opportunity arose for an adjunct professor in the evening division at the University of Texas at San Antonio. I was to teach Freshman Composition. And I did. And I loved it. And my students, who, in the evening division, were generally in their 30s and 40s, were happy. And I learned the importance of audience. I could teach, I just needed more mature students. I stayed at UTSA, happily teaching Freshman Composition, for several years. Some of the best years of my career.

Parker Palmer, in his extraordinary book Let Your Life Speak, talks about “way closing.” As a Quaker, Palmer had heard all his life that when we seek God, “way will open.” But at age 35, his own life seemed to be a series of mis-starts, doors closing, and bad career decisions. He went, one day, to an older Quaker woman known for her wisdom. “’Ruth,’ he said to her, ‘I sit in silence, I pray, I listen for my calling, but way is not opening . . . I still don’t have the foggiest idea of what I’m meant to do.’” The old woman’s reply, says Palmer, was a model of Quaker plain-speaking. “’I’m a birthright friend,’ she said somberly, ‘and in sixty-plus years, way has never opened in front of me. But a lot of way has closed behind me, and that’s had the same guiding effect.’”

When I graduated from college at the age of 40, with my shiny new degree and my hard-won teaching certification, I might have stuck it out in eighth-grade-English classrooms. I might have decided this thing was not going to beat me, that I had paid my dues, that I was entitled, or that if I only worked a little harder, thought a little smarter, I could become a good public school teacher. I might have muscled my way through. But there would have been bodies left behind. Including my own.

That way closing behind me was the pivotal event in my beginning to search for who I really was and what I was really called to do with my life. That closed door forced me to find new paths, to strike out on some new ventures, to notice a tiny little article in the diocesan newspaper that said the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas was looking for a newspaper editor, and to apply for that job. Twenty-five glorious years later, I still cannot believe how blessed I have been.

And that, my friends, I am happily sorry to tell you, is how the Holy Spirit works sometimes.  It’s terribly inefficient and often distressing, with the value placed on hindsight.   If I doubted that God was with me during the Great Teaching Debacle, I do not doubt it now.

Poor creatures that we are, our current vision is often clouded, our understanding often limited, by our own finite minds. We don’t even know what to pray for, “but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” Paul reminds us (Romans 8:26). Trusting that, even when we can’t see the way ahead, when nothing is opening and all seems to be closing must be our guide.

Hmmm. I wonder where I learned that. Must have been from a very wise teacher.

Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at Marjorie.george@dwtx.org.  or leave a comment below.

for your reflectionMore on the Spirit

The Spring/summer 2013 issue of Reflections magazine is now online with a focus on the Holy Spirit. Click here to read the entire issue or individual articles.

For your own reflection:

Think back on, and give thanks for, all the closed doors in your life that have brought you to understand that “way will open” sometimes means but only after “way” has closed.

Signs and Wonders

by Marjorie George

I laughed out loud when I saw the sign out front at Western Hills Christian Church:

THIS IS

THE SIGN

YOU HAVE

BEEN ASKING  FOR

Fortunately I was stopped at a red light on my way home from the grocery store. The people in the car next to me now think I am strange.this is the sign

The writers of the Old Testament took seriously the importance of signs:  The sun stood still at Joshua’s command (Joshua 10:12-14); water flowed from a rock when Moses struck it (Exodus 17:5, 7); the Red Sea parted so God’s people could cross (Exodus 14:22).  

By these signs, the people knew that God loved them the best and was on their side.

The followers of John the Baptist wanted a sign. “Are you the one?” they asked Christ. “Go tell John what you see,” replied Jesus: “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them” (Luke 7:20-22).

“Give me a sign, Lord,” we plead. “Tell me what to do. Show me which way to go.”

Renee Miller, in her essay A Life of Discernment, says, “Life in its plenitude is always presenting us with new and different options to which we must respond.”  However, she adds, the great challenge of discernment “is that we will reduce it to nothing more than achieving a result – getting a question answered – making a choice – coming to a decision.”

Faced with having to make a decision in her own life, writes Miller, she spent years trying to hone in on the right thing to do.  “But I couldn’t seem to gain any clarity about the way forward,” she says. One day she was lamenting to her son about her frustration in the discernment process. “Why don’t you just keep doing what you’re doing until it’s time to do something else?” he responded.

That’s it, you see. We tend to think of the spiritual journey as a single, discernible path – our task being to find it, pounce on it, and stick to it with dogged determination, no matter how thick the  brush we have to chop our way through or how many the boulders we stumble on.  Get my machete.

But I do not think that is the way of the journey.  The paths to God are many and varied, broad at places and then again narrow, sometimes marked with lovely little signs with which all the plants are named (note to self: study up on what poison ivy looks like) but more often a vast expanse of open field and us not knowing how to get across it or even enter it.

Even Christ, when asked for a sign, replied enigmatically, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” referring to his impending death and resurrection (Mathew 12:39).

When in doubt, go back to square one. In the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of our journeys, one thing beckons us forward – loving God and loving our neighbor. When all that we do, when all of our decisions, when all that we seek is guided by this Great Commandment, we can be sure we are on the right path. At any moment, at any decision, the question to ask is: “Is this the life-giving thing to do? Does this lead me to love God more and serve my neighbor better?”

Will we always get it right? Noooooo. Do we ask the Holy Spirit for help and guidance? We do. Will we make mistakes? Yep. But our God is a loving God, and through his Spirit he will gently guide us back to the right path if we let him. For the helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father has sent, will teach us all things (John 14:26).

Thanks for the reminder, Western Hills Christian Church. I needed that sign.

Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org. We welcome your comments and conversation.

for your reflectionMore on the Spirit

Read Renee Miller’s entire essay:

http://episcopalcredo.org/episcopal/assets/File/A_Life_of_Discernment.pdf

The Spring/summer 2013 issue of Reflections magazine is now online with a focus on the Holy Spirit. Click here to read the entire issue or individual articles.

 

The Big Reveal

“I will pour out my spirit on all people” (Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17).

by Marjorie George 

Some young friends are having a baby and have opted out of learning the baby’s gender before its birth.

“Why not?” asked another young mother. hand w plant for web

“Well,” said the mom-to-be, “we kind of like the mystery of not knowing.” 

In an earlier generation (mine), that choice was not even available. Sonograms were reserved for “high risk” moms – those over the age of 30. I’m guessing the market for the neutral colors of yellow and aqua in baby attire has dwindled in recent decades.

I still remember seeing each of my babies for the first time and thinking, “Oh, so that’s who you are.”` I knew this child, but not fully.  I had carried this child, talked to the child, sung to the child, felt the baby’s kick in my womb, but the knowledge was not complete until birth: “Oh, so that’s who you are.”

Even with sonograms, I doubt this element has changed for new parents as they investigate toes, nose, the shape of the chin, the placement of the ears. The new mom begins to see her mother’s smile in the baby’s smile; the new dad sees his father’s fingers in the baby’s fingers.  

A priest friend of mine used to say that in part, this is what heaven will be like: meeting Jesus face to face and saying, “So, it was you all along.”

It is an act of the Holy Spirit. Simeon saw the Messiah, knew the old prophecy had been fulfilled, in the child Jesus because, says Scripture, the Holy Spirit was upon Simeon (Luke 2:25).  Paul sees “through the glass darkly,” but then will “see face to face.” He, like we, “knows only in part,” but then will “know fully” (I Corinthians 13:12).

This is the work of the spirit, to reveal to us that God-thing that waits to be created in us – that seed of God that resides at our core and longs to erupt.  It is the deep “knowing” of God and of our own selves that has been covered over by our human endeavoring. It longs to poke its head up, like the tender green shoot in the earth responding to the first warmth of the spring sun.  

We are helpless to bring it to birth by ourselves.  Not that we don’t try.  If we just work a little harder, we think, if we just study a little more, if we just strive a little longer – but no, that is not the way of God – while the spirit of God hovers around the edges of our lives gently whispering, “Here, let me help.”   

And when we finally, finally – usually exhausted by our own efforts – invite the spirit in, life begins.  God’s spirit recognizes our spirit, that spirit that he implanted in us at our own moment of creation, and we say, “Oh, so that’s who you are. And that’s who I am.” 

Our journey of growing ever closer to God, ever closer to that person he created us to be, begins. The journey is our life’s work, and sometimes, when it seems most solitary, we need to be reminded that we do not make this journey alone. That was the promise of Christ to us as he set his face toward Jerusalem and his crucifixion: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (John 14:16-17). 

Call in the midwife, it’s time. And I can’t wait to see who God turns out to be for me, who I turn out to be for him, what my life and your life and our lives together as the people of God turn out to be.

Come holy spirit, and it shall be created.

 

Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org. We welcome your comments and conversation.

 

for your reflectionMore on the Spirit

The Spring/summer 2013 issue of Reflections magazine is now online with a focus on the Holy Spirit. Click here to read the entire issue or individual articles. 

How many biblical verses that mention the Holy Spirit are you familiar with? Click here for 77 of them.

The Outpouring of the Spirit

The story of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit camAbstract Pranayamae upon the followers of Jesus Christ, is told in the Book of Acts, chapter 2. On that day, says Scripture, “they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (Acts 2:1-4). In the Episcopal Church, Pentecost was celebrated this year on May 19.

The day had been foretold by the prophet Joel who spoke of a day of reconciliation between God and his people. On that day, the Lord declares,
“I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions” (2:28).

The Spring/summer 2013 issue of Reflections magazine explores this Holy Spirit whom the Church understands to be the third Person of the Trinity. But no words can adequately capture the Spirit. As all of the writers of this issue discovered, the Spirit can’t be described or defined; he can only be experienced.

We will spend several weeks this summer exploring that experience of the Holy Spirit, limited though we are by human language.

We begin with a link to the Spring/summer 2013 issue of Reflections where you can read the entire magazine or individual articles (click here).

Articles are also available under the topic “The Holy Spirit” in the list of pages in the right column.

We invite you to respond to the articles, spend some time with your own reflections, or start a conversation by leaving your comments.

We welcome your thoughts and your own experiences of the Holy Spirit.

Watch for posts on this site. If you have subscribed to ReflectionsOnline, you will receive them in your e-mail. If  you have not subscribed, you can do so in the block at the top of the column on the right.

Marjorie George, editor, marjorie for web
Marjorie.george@dwtx.org