Let’s begin today with a prayer. . . .
Lord, we open ourselves up to your Spirit.
To be open to the Spirit . . . how can we be open to the Spirit?
I have a dear friend who isn’t religious. She and I have had many chats about faith, religion, truth, and the meaning of life; over time, we’ve come to accept that we do not see the world in the same way and have reached a place of mutual respect. One day, my friend listened to a long story I shared in which I listed a litany of concerns, qualms, and questions about some big issue that I had been ruminating on. I was faced with a big decision, and I was looking for external guidance. She listened compassionately and then said this to me:
“Get quiet, feel your way forward.”
Get quiet and feel your way forward. . . . Quiet. Feel. Forward. But let’s return to this story later.
I think of the Holy Spirit as being all around us, enveloping us, encircling us, resting inside of us. I think of the Holy Spirit as flowing between us, within us, and around us. I think of the Holy Spirit as resting right there, a finger’s breath away, always loving us, always there for us; we cannot see it, but it is there.
What role does the Holy Spirit play in our lives today? Do we recognize the Holy Spirit at work in our world, in our lives, and in ourselves? In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit guides us to the truth; the Spirit will guide us: the Spirit as our guide.
So, are we open to being guided by the Holy Spirit? And if we are, then how are we guided by the Spirit? When I sat with this Gospel reading, I thought of two ways, but I’m sure there may be others: (1) by experiencing the Spirit in others, and (2) by feeling the Spirit inside ourselves.
I believe the Spirit can guide us through the words, actions, and deeds of others. Everyone is trying to teach you something; all you have to do is listen. We are all told repeatedly how divisive our society has become, how closed-minded the other side is being on an issue, and how unwilling others are to learn about a different perspective. But, we cannot control others; we can only control ourselves. In light of the divisiveness, in light of the closed-mindedness, and the unwillingness to learn, I encourage all of us to do what we can to recognize the Holy Spirit at work in those we encounter along the journey of our lives.
It can be easy to notice the Spirit when our closest friends and neighbors shower us with love and gifts. It can be quite difficult, though, when we are confronted with painful burdens from our foremost enemies and opponents. Do we recognize the Holy Spirit at work in those we dislike, those we do not trust, those we struggle to love, and even in those who hurt us? That can be a real challenge.
To be open to the Spirit at work in those around us is to have faith that God can make good out of anything . . . anything. According to Fr. Jacques Philippe “[t]his is an absolutely fundamental truth: God can draw good out of everything, both good and bad, positive and negative.”
So what if the Holy Spirit is trying to guide us in the form of someone we do not like? Are we open to the Spirit if we do not respect those with whom we disagree? All of us were made in the imagine and likeness of God. Even if we are repulsed by the beliefs, actions, and opinions of someone we do not like, I believe that we should all try to be open to the possibility that the Holy Spirit might be at work within them. Mary Lou Kownacki once said that “there isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story.” How can we hear someone’s story if we do not listen and if we are not open?
Let’s try to be open to the Spirit guiding us through others, even those we do not like, even those we do not agree with, even those who hurt us. Bryan Stevenson told us that “[e]ach of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” Maybe the “more” Mr. Stevenson is talking about is the manifestation of the Holy Spirit at work within each of us, guiding others through us in ways we will never even know.
This takes faith. . . .
I also believe the Spirit can guide us from within ourselves, so are we listening?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus said that the Holy Spirit “will take from what is mine and declare it to you.” Do you have any big decisions to make, such as whether to accept that new job or if it is your place to intervene in the life of a friend or loved one who is struggling with a serious issue? Or perhaps you are contending with smaller decisions, like whether to accept that invitation to an indoor reception, or whether to truly forgive your coworker who said something hurtful. Or maybe it is even simpler still, such as a decision of which book to read next or whether to send a birthday card to an old friend. Regardless, we are all faced with countless questions that need answers every day; some are easy to resolve while others leave us stumped without a clue.
Remember, the Spirit will guide us. In the wise words of Mother Teresa, “In the silence of our heart, God speaks and you have to listen. Then in the fullness of your heart, because it is full of God, full of love, full of compassion, full of faith, your mouth will speak.”
How often do we look inwards for answers? I for one tend to look outside myself, asking this person and that person for advice. And although I strongly believe that it is important to share and to be receptive to feedback, sometimes the answer to our question rests in the silence of a still, calm heart where the Spirit is trying to guide us.
So let’s consider my friend’s wise words again through the lens of what you’ve heard me teach this morning. I shared two ways in which—I believe—we can be guided by the Spirit: (1) in others, and (2) by feeling it inside ourselves. I believe this little exchange with my friend illustrates and summarizes those two main points.
“Get quiet, feel your way forward.” Quiet. Feel. Forward.
In some ways, my friend’s message was exactly what I needed to hear; maybe it is exactly what we all need to hear. So intent on locating an answer to our important questions externally, we tend to forget to look inward and we tend to ignore the silence of our hearts where the Spirit may be trying to lead us. Perhaps I was guided by the Holy Spirit that day by my friend, and interestingly, this non-religious friend’s recommendation, in many respects, aligned beautifully with the idea that the Spirit can guide us from within ourselves. Despite the fact that she and I do not see eye-to-eye religiously, I still feel like I learned something about my faith from her on that day; who knows, maybe the Holy Spirit was at work within her. By getting quiet and feeling our way forward, we may be able to better surrender ourselves to God’s will and ultimately be guided by the Holy Spirit to the truth.
“Get quiet, feel your way forward.”
Quiet . . . create silence in your life, silence in your mind, and be ready to listen.
Feel . . . be attentive and receptive to the Spirit at work in your life.
Forward . . . cooperate with the Spirit and allow yourself to be guided forward, onward along the trail of your life.
The Savior of the World told us today that “when he comes, the Spirit of truth,
he will guide you to all truth.” So, let’s strive to be open to the Spirit at work amongst us, in our friends, in our foes, and even in ourselves.
Over the years, I have heard numerous people say that they do not know how to pray to the Holy Spirit; they tend to think of Jesus the Good Shepard or God the Father Almighty in prayer. I encourage all of us to think about the Spirit more, the Spirit as it flows within us, acts around us, and works through us.
So, with that in mind, let’s end today with a prayer to the Spirit. . . .
Lord, we open ourselves up to your Spirit. Help us to get quiet and to feel our way forward.