How, or when, do we experience the presence of the Spirit? I once read that the Spirit is most present at three open spaces in our lives: “In the unpredictable, in the place of risk, and in those areas over which we have no control.” Which was exactly where the disciples were on that first Pentecost. And that is where we are, more times than we would like to admit. Pentecost is our reminder that there is another side to God’s Spirit—one than can set us on fire, transform our lives, turn our world upside down. The action of the Spirit is not predictable. It can seem very risky and is definitely beyond our control—not only in our personal lives but also in our experience of Church and of monastic community.
We heard from St. Paul that it is in this one Spirit that we were all baptized into one body. “Now you are the body of Christ,” Paul says, “and individually members of it.” This turns out to be a place of risk, unpredictability, and beyond our control. Wholeness is a matter of many different parts all being themselves and doing their jobs. Only gradually we come to discover that unity and diversity are not contradictory terms: our survival as bodies depends not on the sameness of our members but on their variety, their differences. When it comes to the Body of Christ that we are, it is only the Spirit of Pentecost that creates and renews the intricate cooperation required to keep the Body alive and well.
But, truth be told, this is a place of risk, unpredictability, and where we are not in control. The problem begins with the concrete reality that we find ourselves in a community with a bunch of other people who look, think, talk, and act differently than we do. In a monastic community, for example, a microcosm of the Church as a whole, we join a community looking for—what?—closeness, support, some measure of safety—and nine times out of ten what we get instead is this holy struggle to live and work with people who are just as angular as we are. There are moments that would persuade us that community is “that place where the person you least want to live with always lives!” (Ironically, we may suddenly realize that usually turns out to be ourselves!)
May this feast of Pentecost inspire us this morning to give ourselves over to the working of the Holy Spirit in the “open spaces” in our lives, especially in spaces of risk, unpredictability and where we are not in control. That gives the Holy Spirit plenty of room in which to work! On a very practical level, what better way is there to open ourselves up to the God beyond our knowing than to begin with the brother (or sister) beyond our knowing, who is a fellow-member of the Body of Christ? What finer way to learn about the reconciling power of Christ that we’ve been celebrating this Eastertide than to test it in a body of infinite variety? The Holy Spirit, the Consoler, the Advocate, is also the one who desires to set us on fire with love, to transform our lives in Truth, and turn our world upside down with the Good News of Jesus Christ risen, glorified and abiding with us always.
Excerpts from Father Dominic's homily for Pentecost Sunday.