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September 1, 2015, 1:55 PM

Veni Sancte Spiritus


Genesis 1:1-5, The Message
1-2 First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.
3-5 God spoke: “Light!”
        And light appeared.
    God saw that light was good
        and separated light from dark.
    God named the light Day,
        God named the dark Night.
    It was evening, it was morning—
    Day One.
 
John 3:1-9, CEB, revised
There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a Jewish leader. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could do these miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.”
Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born anew, it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom.”
Nicodemus asked, “How is it possible for an adult to be born? It’s impossible to enter the mother’s womb for a second time and be born, isn’t it?”
Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. Don’t be surprised that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus said, “How are these things possible?”
 
Veni Sancte Spiritus
 
As I was reading and studying the Genesis scripture for this week it struck me how much birds are a part of my life. My mom had an abundance of bird feeders outside the kitchen window throughout my childhood and adolescence. The breakfast table had a perfect view of the feeders and every morning we would play “name that bird;” the chickadees and sparrows, the tufted tit mice and juncos, the aggressive blue jays, and comical nuthatches. My love of birds carried over into my summer months.  On warm, sunny days, while the cows were in the pasture, my dad would throw open all the barn doors and let the summer breezes blow through, the those winds would occasionally bring in a bird as well. The bird would get trapped and lost, so I would patiently stalk it, but it tired. I would catch the bird in my hands and show my mom before letting it free outdoors. I caught a Baltimore Oriole, an indigo bunting, and even a tiny hummingbird, that hovered helicopter-like above my hand before shooting away.
 
Mom would stop often when we were out to point out a great blue heron winging by, or a kingfisher perched above a stream, a red-tailed hawk soaring overheard, and the elusive and captivating eagle. We raised chickens when I was young and I still remember entering the warm coop in the cold of winter and hearing the soft clucking of the hens on their nests. We raised turkeys too, but my memories of them are quite different. We even had a mother duck who hatched both a baby duck and a baby goose. What a variety of birdlife there is! And each bird evokes different thoughts and feelings. Sparrows speak of simplicity, and the everyday. Hummingbirds are a flash of beauty and fragility. The blue bird sings of happiness (bluebirds on my shoulder make me smile-John Denver). The crow is brooding and disruptive. The hen depicts nurture and motherhood. The goose is protectiveness. And the eagle speaks of soaring high, of might and grandeur. Such diversity! Can we see why the image of birds is used within our scriptures, especially in Genesis, to depict the Holy Spirit? How varied the Spirit can appear! She hovers, mother hen-like, over creation’s waters, nurturing the new life about to burst forth in such abundance! She is the everyday sparrow who flits around us, always present. She is the fast and unpredictable hummingbird, flashing past in beauty. The Spirit is the bright and joy-filled blue bird, the startling and disruptive crow, the protective goose. She lifts us high on eagle wings. How varied is that Holy Spirit!
 
Is it any wonder that the words in ancient Hebrew and Greek for Spirit are also the words for wind and breath? Ruach in Hebrew, Pneuma in Greek—feminine nouns both. God’s Spirit blows wherever she wishes. The wind imagery takes that visual of the bird and expands it, for who can control the wind? One theologian friends refers to the Spirit as the ‘wild child’ of the Trinity. Breath, breeze, gust, storm—it is hard to wrap words around the Spirit. Perhaps we must speak of her as we have experienced her.
 
When have you experienced the Spirit as breath; intimate, gentle, life-giving? (pause) When has the Spirit been a soft and refreshing breeze in your life? (pause) When has she, autumn-like, been a gust that pushes you forward more quickly than you wanted to go? (pause) When has the Holy Spirit stormed into your life and transformed the landscape in a great rush, and yet reminded you that she is as close as each breath, giving life and love? It is hard to wrap words around the ‘wild child,’ for the wind blows where she wills, but we can see her passing.
 
So I have homework for you this week—some assignments. Pay attention. Birds are flitting all around you every day. Pay attention to them. When you see one, stop. Take note of the bird. How does that little feathered friend help us imagine the elusive and ever-present Spirit? Think about it for a moment, and then pray, “Veni Sancte, Spiritus-Come, Holy Spirit.”
 
The wind moves around us every day—soft whispers, gentle breezes, startling gusts, mighty storms. When creation’s winds touch you, stop. Take note. Close your eyes and just feel that air move over and around you. What does it whisper to you about God’s awesome Spirit? Think about it for a moment, and then pray, “Veni Sancte Spiritus—Come, Holy Spirit.”
 
And finally, let us dedicate two minutes each day to breath, and nothing else. Put aside the to-do lists, the calendars, the latest book we are reading. Put aside our devotions for a moment. Turn off our cell phones and tablets and laptops, our televisions and radios.  For two minutes let us sit comfortably—or stand or lay down—and just breath…in…out…in…out. Focus on that life-giving air that moves into your lungs to nourish your body, and then out to mix in the air. And at the end of those two minutes pray, “Veni Sancte Spiritus, Come, Holy Spirit.” Tell me next week how these simple changes to your routine changed your perspective, and perhaps, changed your life. Invite someone else to try these assignments as well—a spouse, child, parent, friend, co-worker, neighbor, even stranger.
 
So let’s get started, now! Find a comfortable position. Close your eyes, or find a spot on which to let your eyes rest. Focus on your breathing. Take a long steady breath in slowly. Let the air expand until it feels like it is filling your lungs. Hold it a moment. And then exhale in one long slow, steady stream until your lungs feel empty. Let’s repeat that a couple of times in silence.
 
Silence…Breathing
 
And now repeat after me: Veni Sancte Spiritus…Veni Sancte Spiritus.
Come, Holy Spirit…Come, Holy Spirit. Amen.

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