For the second week in a row, my sacred practice for the week took me by surprise. As I wrote last week, I’ve been feeling a little out of sorts lately and found some solace in the awkward place we’ve been in the liturgical calendar, the ten days of waiting between Ascension and Pentecost. What better opportunity, I realized, to re-up and renew my prayers for the filling and guidance of the Holy Spirit than this week. And so, that’s what I did.
This week’s practice isn’t really a traditional Christian ‘practice’ — though certainly all Christian traditions have included prayers for the coming of and renewal of the Holy Spirit (including even my own Anglican tradition, which has had for the most part a rather shameful apathy toward the Spirit and its work — the English don’t do disruption very well!). Rather, it’s more an intentional recognition of and leaning into a unique place in the liturgical calendar, and a cultivating of a sense of expectation surrounding the possibilities of a Spirit-filled life.
I took my cue from the Acts of the Apostles, which begins with Jesus telling his disciples to wait for the coming of the Spirit. After he ascends into heaven, they go back to the upper room and wait for what comes next.
This past week I tried to put myself in that frame of mind, asking God to guide my next steps and to renew the Holy Spirit within me.
What is it?
Every morning this week, in place of my usual morning prayer, I prayed a series of prayers gathered together from various Christian traditions invoking the Holy Spirit. Any prayers will do for this — there are no magic words or formulas in Christianity — but if you would like to engage with this practice this week now that we are on the other side of Pentecost and are at a loss for words, the prayers I used can be found in the Resources section of this site.
My week with this intentional practice of calling upon the Spirit in preparation for Pentecost was gentle and lovely. There were no huge insights and certainly no sounds of rushing wind or visual manifestations of fire. I did however experience a deeper sense of the Spirit in my life and the possibilities for the coming year. This was helpful, not only because of the sense of ‘being in between things’ that had drawn me to the practice this week, but also because it so happened that Pentecost fell on my birthday this year, and I am a person who finds anniversaries of special dates to be a natural time for reflection and recalibration.
The biggest complaint I hear about Pentecost is “Why do we say ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ when we’ve already received it?” It’s an interesting question, and I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t ever struck me as weird. Two answers come to mind that both touch on why I found the practice this week to be valuable. The first riffs off of an answer I once heard to a similar question, “Why do we pray ‘Lord have mercy?’ Isn’t God already merciful? Why do we have to ask?” The answer was that, traditionally, Christians pray what we believe and believe what we pray. And so, we pray ‘Lord have mercy’ because we believe that God is merciful, not because we’re worried God might not be. And praying ‘Lord have mercy’ reinforces that belief. The same reasoning words here. We pray ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ because we believe that the Holy Spirit has come and is always coming; and the prayer in turn reminds us of this. The second answer is about ‘special’ days, roles, or places generally speaking. In a sense, none of the Christian feasts or holy days ‘make sense’. We sing ‘Jesus Christ is risen today’ at Easter and shout ‘Christ is born! Glorify him!’ at Christmas but the days themselves are, really, nothing. But by marking out certain days as special commemorations and celebrations, it helps us to make what we are celebrating real. It’s a lot like the sacramental priesthood to me: The communities I’ve seen who most embody the ‘priesthood of all believers’ are those who also have ordained priests. Similarly, the communities that make the most of their sacred spaces are the ones that have the greatest sense that the whole world is a temple. It seems we often need the specific in order to really see, believe, and live out the general. And so I think these sacred days are beneficial. Because we have Easter, we can better see the Easterness of every day; because we have Good Friday, we can see the Good-Fridayness within every day. And, because we have Pentecost, I think we can better grasp that the renewal, empowerment, and vocation it represents really are truly open and available to us every day.
I found that this week of invoking the Spirit prepared my heart for Pentecost, similar to how Lent prepares us for Easter or Advent for Christmas. I do feel like it enabled me to ‘keep a good Pentecost’ this year, particularly in a season in my life in which I do feel a bit out of sorts and dissatisfied. And that was a great blessing. And, as I said above, I also feel a renewed sense of possibility and vocation for the coming year — I still don’t know what that will look like, but this practice did help at least reorient me once again to the things that are important to me and to the life I want to and hope to live, with God’s help.
And so, I genuinely enjoyed and benefited from this practice. I hope I remember to do it again next year. (If you want to join in next year, Pentecost is June 9, 2019 and so the week would begin June 2.)