It’s hard to believe that we’ve already come to the season of Pentecost. In one way, of course, we live in Pentecost, inspired and sustained by the Holy Spirit. But if you’re like me, maybe you don’t think about the Spirit in particular as often as, say, you think about Jesus.
We’ve all seen countless depictions of Jesus, and even though all of those pictures are merely artist’s conceptions (since we don’t really know what he looked like), it’s easier to picture him in our minds when we talk to him in prayer because our brains already have some images to work with. The Spirit, on the other hand, is…spirit. We have symbols for the Spirit, but they are just that: symbolic. We know the Spirit is not a dove (or a wild goose if you’re Celtic). Those symbols can call the Holy Spirit to mind, but they’re not always helpful to hold in our imaginations as we pray. The Spirit is like the wind or breath, but that’s kind of hard to picture and personalize when it’s prayer time. And that’s a bit unfortunate because she’s the one who is nudging us to pray in the first place.
Some people don’t like it when they hear or see the Holy Spirit referred to as “she.” There are good reasons, though, to use the feminine pronoun when referring to the Spirit. Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created humanity in God’s own image, male and female. So there is a strong suggestion there of a feminine presence in the Trinity. The Hebrew word for spirit, ruach, is a feminine word, so in Genesis when the wind or Spirit hovers of the waters it’s that feminine voice bringing order out of Chaos. The Spirit also appears in the Tanakh (Old Testament) as Sophia, Wisdom, a feminine name with feminine pronouns. And we must not forget Shekinah, the powerful, shining presence of God which settles on the prophets and sometime upon the people. Shekinah appears numerous places in the Tanakh. The word Shekinah is feminine, and the presence has always been understood as presenting a feminine aspect of God. So if it helps you to mentally visualize who you’re praying to when you pray to the Holy Spirit, maybe you could imagine her as a feminine personage composed of wind and light and the flames of Pentecost.
Or you could learn to experience her presence in other ways, because she comes to us in limitless ways and forms. That’s the advantage of being Spirit.
The other day I was struggling to write my sermon for Pentecost. My thoughts were all over the place and I had a serious case of Writer’s Block. I had pages of notes but no central idea was pulling them all together. I sat at my computer here in the guest bedroom that has become my home office and stared blankly out the window, not really seeing anything. In frustration, I offered up a little prayer. “Okay, Holy Spirit, how about a little help here?”
At that moment the light shifted outside the window and movement caught my eye. The layer of overcast had parted and bright sunlight was flooding down on the trumpet vines on the fence outside the window. The bright, almost garish vermillion flowers with their yellow throats were suddenly dancing in the breeze, raising their trumpet faces to the sun against the backdrop of deep green leaves, and I could almost hear them singing a song of praise: “Life! Life! Life in all its fullness!”
I felt immersed in the presence of God, Shekinah, as I watched the wind, ruach, playing with the flowers and vines, shaking them to get my attention. And the Sophia of God, Wisdom, spoke to my heart and head, telling me to rest and come back to the writing later.
Pentecost comes to us when we learn to see that the Holy Spirit has been with us all along.