The Spirit Speaks In The Ordinary


Spirit Window at NewmanIf I have to pick a favorite person of the Trinity, there’s no question: the Holy Spirit wins, hands down. It’s the Spirit who guides me, whose help I invoke when I’m at the end of my rope, whose whisper has inSpired all the best words and melodies and harmonies I have ever written.

I’m not one of those people who thinks it’s a one-way relationship, that I just get to look pretty and hold my hands out while Person #3 drops finished works in my lap. The Spirit doesn’t “give” me songs (or stories, or reflections); he inSpires them and I have to do the bloody, sweaty work of beating them into a form that can actually pass muster in the world. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t. But I know there’s no chance without the Spirit.

I first got to know the Spirit when I was battling crippling anxiety. In the presence of the Blessed Sacrament chapel or on the muddy bank of a placid Iowa river, I discovered that I could “let go” the knot of tension in my chest or in my head. And when I did, what remained felt like cool water on a burn, or a long drink smoothing a parched throat. It was a long time before I understood Whose Presence I was experiencing.

That feeling is elusive in the presence of chaos and stimulus, and life with small children is nothing but. At this very moment I have a complaining, wiggling 16-month-old on my lap, trying to type for me. This is why I need the time away: otherwise, I lose not only the words and melodies I’m called to write, but my very equilibrium as a human being.

Still, I’m learning that even if I can’t feel it, He’s there. If love is identified not by overwhelming passion, but by the daily repetition of choices and actions, then why should God, who is love, be expected to provide a nonstop barrage of emotional stimuli? Emotions are not the point. They’re just a nice side effect.

“I don’t feel my faith,” I told a priest in Confession once.

“Feelings.” He dismissed my preteen angst with a wave. “If you see a man without a coat and you feel for him, that doesn’t keep him warm. What keeps him warm is giving him a coat. You don’t need to feel anything.”

But–but! I like that cool spreading-out in the center of my chest. I like that shiver when my brain or my body releases in His presence. I like that buzz in my brain that comes when He’s working inside it. I like to say, “Come Holy Spirit,” and have the words and ideas start to flow as I get out of the way and listen to the divine whisper.

Yet sometimes I have to go do something utterly mundane, like sweep the crumb-y  residue off the kitchen floor, and lunge and pull a wet mop over the surface while perspiration tightens my hairline. Sometimes that’s when the Spirit nudges: “Hey, here’s that blog tour idea you’ve been asking Me for. And oh yes, that missing word that will make that entire song verse work? Done.” No glorious shiver. No chorus of angels. Just everyday, nose-to-the-grindstone, do-whatcha-gotta-do-as-best-you-know-how…work.

And you know, I think that’s as it should be. Because after all, isn’t that what most of the work of the Gospel is?

7 thoughts on “The Spirit Speaks In The Ordinary

  1. I tell you, often when I read one of your posts I am awed speechless. This is one of those posts.

    This is also a post that has given me an “aha moment.” I have battled anxiety a long time, too, and although I pray to God to help me through it, it never occurred to me to rely on the Holy Spirit in those times. I really need to get closer in my relationship with the Holy Spirit. Thanks!

  2. barbaraschoeneberger

    My spiritual director of long ago gave me a big lecture about feelings. “It’s not about feelings,” he said. “It’s about the will.” That was my aha! moment and one I’ve pondered a lot over the years. Your confessor sounds like a great person.

  3. Colleen

    My spiritual director gave me the same kind of talk. We need to love the Giver of the gifts, not the gifts. Or the “warm fuzzies,” as I call them. At first we have a honeymoon period but then our relationship matures like it does in a marriage. The love is more mature and is not based just on feelings or what the other person can do for us.
    I began to pay serious attention to the Holy Spirit when I became a spiritual director. I needed to pay attention as the Holy Spirit is the real spiritual director. I have learned to listen. And wait.
    Great post.

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