By Sister Leslie Keener, CDP
As we heard in our reading from Acts of the Apostles for Pentecost this past Sunday, the Holy Spirit speaks to people in ways that we can understand, and it is present in our attention, in our act of holy listening too.
In the reading from Acts, the Spirit speaks through each disciple in such a way that enables those around them to understand the Good News proclaimed in their own languages. The Spirit is present in and through each person’s voice in a language that makes sense to someone else. I experience the Holy Spirit speaking in this way too, especially as a spiritual director when I meet with directees. Sometimes they’ll say something aloud and hear it for the first time and finally understand what God is trying to say to them. Somehow God speaks to them through their own words, and they are able to notice the Spirit at work. God even speaks through me when, every now and then, I’ll say something to someone that really resonates with them. I often don’t know where it came from, because I know it didn’t arise from any particular wisdom in me, so it must be the Holy Spirit. It’s helpful to recognize the Spirit in our own voices. And each of us is called to give voice to the Spirit within. That’s why we don’t live the spiritual life alone – the Spirit speaks through each one of us, and we need each other to receive a greater fullness of God than we have alone.
The Spirit not only emerges in what people say, but it also comes in the act of listening. God created each of us uniquely, and God knows us intimately, so when God speaks to each of us, God does so in a way that is especially tailored to each one. Some hear God fairly directly, and others hear God very subtly. Some feel God speaking through their emotions, desires, or gut. Others experience God more strongly in their thoughts and their reflections. God speaks through all of these things. I often encounter the Holy Spirit speaking through other people as I listen to what they share. As they tell me about their prayer, experiences, and feelings, I feel the Holy Spirit stir in me too. It is very moving to experience God in this way – God’s presence feels clear and strong and loving in the words of another person and in my listening. I also tend to hear God speaking through my emotions. I need God to be gentle with me, and God often is. God enters into my prayer in subtle ways, and I gradually become aware and think, "Oh, there you are." There are plenty of times too, though, when I seek God, but it seems like the Spirit isn't moving at all. And then there is nothing to do but wait and pray. Whatever it is that I’m seeking eventually emerges. I know that God has something to say to me, and so I try to pay attention to what God might be trying to communicate. Except when I don’t. It is easy to get distracted and to turn my attention to a thousand things that are not God. And yet, God breaks through anyway, somehow, despite my inattention.
Since that profound experience of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Spirit has continued to speak, chattering away, trying to get our attention, moving us and stirring our hearts. If we pay attention, we can hear it.
Have you ever felt God speaking to you? What does God to sound like? How is the Holy Spirit stirring in you right now?