Saturday, June 25, 2011

As By a ... New Pentecost?

My old friend Mike Bogdanovich wrote a song once that says:
Something's going on
Deep inside of me
Something very precious
Something's going to set me free

That chorus has been going through my mind of late, because something is going on inside me. There is a certain ironic twist that it is Mike's song I'm thinking of since this something has to do with Pentecost and he is a friend from my pentecostal days.

I was, as I sometimes put it, a "non-denominational small-p-pentecostal charismatic" before I became a Catholic, even though I was raised Lutheran. It was a formative time for me; I was 19-24 years old and I was expanding my horizons spiritually, mostly in ways that were good. My experience with what I learned to call the baptism in the Holy Spirit, which I experienced alone in my college dorm room with a Don Basham book in hand, was my first experiential encounter with Jesus Christ as Emmanuel, as God who wanted to interact with me. Before that I had let Him be primarily the God in heaven I believed in and prayed to. But with that introduction to "things charismatic" as I understood them, Jesus showed me He is a Person, that the Holy Spirit is a Person, and that our relationship could have elements of an actual, tangible exchange if I but came asking and expecting to receive.

Because I had learned to identify and develop this living and growing relationship with God, I kept hungering for more and more until my feeling that I had "eaten through" everything available to me left me restless. This was because God was leading me to enter the Catholic Church, an adventure I've written about several times on this blog, like here. I've never felt I've foresworn my charismatic formation or experience, although I have felt that what was once a great source of growth for me became far less edifying. I remember attending a lecture by a Carmelite priest while I was in the process of entering the Church. I asked him what he thought of the charismatic movement as a spirituality. I was shocked by his response. It was something to the effect that it was fine as a starting place for some people, but the real fruit was to be found in contemplative prayer. In my youthful egotism and spiritual inexperience, I felt as if I'd been standing on the spiritual Mount Everest in my charismatic fellowship. He was telling me I'd barely hit the foothills.

I share all this to say that when I've thought of Pentecost, the feast, for all these years as a Catholic (18 years, now) I've still held on to some sense of how we used to pray for a "move of the Holy Spirit." Back then it seemed we always believed that God was just on the verge of doing something new, something great, something unprecedented. The next revival was always right around the corner. Sometimes people would then start seeing these things, or convincing themselves that they did. This leaves people open, frankly, to mind games that aren't healthy.

Just before this year's feast of Pentecost, I was praying the Pentecost mystery of the rosary, and I realized I was praying with a yearning that my mind couldn't figure out how to package. I was still carrying around this sense that to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit was to pray for large, bizarre things to happen of one sort or another. But my overarching sense was that I was praying open-endedly for something from the unknown to be made known. That's the best I can do to describe it.

Then on Pentecost Sunday at Mass, whether it was actually from the prayers of the liturgy or from the comments of the priest I'm not sure, but I heard that Pentecost is the fulfillment of the paschal mystery. Yes! The sufferings of Christ we shared in Lent, His death we witnessed in the Triduum, His resurrection celebrated for forty days, His ascension into glory where our humanity is raised up -- and now His Spirit is poured out, sealing His covenant with us, quickening us, filling us with life, and sending us forth: it is all one. That struck me as very significant.

What I have experienced, I think, is encapsulated in this truth. I have been experiencing a new Pentecost in my own life, and it is a large, bizarre thing in a way. And yet it is also the flowering of the things the Lord asked of me during Lent, during the Triduum, the things that first "sprouted" in Easter. It is about serving Him with power, it is about grace flooding through my soul and from me. It is also rooted in the "charismatic" reality I learned of actual, tangible exchange with my living Lord who knows every detail of my life and who opens Himself to me. And many, many would find it mystifying. This powerful move of the Holy Spirit has been about me.... cleaning my house. Yep. Sweeping those floors, doing housework.

I am in no way kidding. This is a deep thing. It makes me marvel all over again at the work of the Holy Trinity in human hearts.

I love this adventure of living with the Lord. There is always new growth, new directives, new calls to obedience and love. It is like continuously traveling and continuously arriving at the starting gate.

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