Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Column: Pleasant Coolness in the Heat

This column appeared at CatholicPhilly on 3 September 2015, check there for more resources related to this column.

Come, thou Light of all that live!
Thou, the soul’s delightful guest,
Dost refreshing peace bestow.
Thou in toil art comfort sweet;
Pleasant coolness in the heat.

“We sunk the well another 400 feet,” sighs my father on the phone, lamenting California’s drought. There have been moments this summer that my prayer life has felt as dry as the hills that surround my dad’s farm, where the grass crunches underfoot and dust clouds seem to chase the llamas around the back pasture.

Today I walked out of the morning session of a conference into a muggy still heat, 100 F in the shade. Not even a hint of a breeze stirred the leaves of the trees. I found a chair near the lake and sat down, shutting my eyes to take a few minutes for prayer. Suddenly a hint of a breeze wafted past, momentarily cool, gone almost as quickly as I noticed it. Mired though we are in the doldrums of Ordinary Time, the words of the Pentecost sequence popped into my head, “pleasant coolness in the heat.”

It made me wonder if I’d been ignoring the gentle breezes of the Spirit in my prayer of late. Had I been waiting for rushing winds and fiery responses, all the while overlooking almost imperceptible signs of the Spirit dwelling within me? Many people in my life are struggling with illness, not least among them my father. I pray fiercely for them, yet they still suffer.

Father Karl Rahner, S.J., a 20th century theologian, reflecting on Pentecost in his book “The Eternal Year,” wonders much the same thing. Does the fiery, stirring rhetoric of our celebration of Pentecost blind us to the workings of the Spirit in our lives? Wait, confess your weakness, your inability to pray, suggests Father Rahner, until you can simply let the Spirit dwelling within you call out to himself. Gently, the Spirit makes its presence known.

The feast of Pentecost is long past, the red garments tucked away, the memories of the spring breezes gone, but Christ sank the wells of the Spirit deep within our hearts. The momentary breeze at the lake reminded me to let go of my expectations in prayer, to sit, confessing my inability to even pray, and wait on the gentling of the Spirit. Come, thou Light of all that live!

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