I do not feel filled with the Holy Spirit right now, I’ll admit. I’m 40 weeks pregnant (due date was yesterday), and all of a sudden, half the family is sick, including my husband and birth partner. It’s a holiday weekend as I write this (on the computer my sick husband just used); my two older children are home, screaming at each other in tones I don’t think I’ve witnessed their whole lives, and every person in this family (myself included), is getting on my last nerve. I cannot stop obsessively thinking about what I will do if I have to give birth while sick (as if labor isn’t hard e-fucking-nough, and what the hell happens if both parents are too germy to hold the newborn baby when she comes out)?? I am losing my shit.
Naturally, I just went to confession about how judgmental and merciless I can be, both to myself and others. I’m afraid the grace hasn’t kicked in yet. End of pregnancy hormones keep encouraging me to move around the house (slowly, very freaking slowly), alternately crying and giving everyone a mean face. (Then hugging them, because I love them, and we need each other). But I am pissed as shit and can’t find my center.
I read an article in Yoga Journal this morning, and Yoga International last night (again, trying to find my center, so I don’t bring this baby into the world like a bat out of hell). Both ended up being about “letting go of perfectionism,” “embracing imperfection.” I don’t have any idea what that means, and to be honest, even the thought of it throws me into a frenzy of anxiety. I mean sure, maybe I have control issues, but thank God for that! Who else is going to keep control of things if I don’t? Seriously. Answer me!
And yet . . . All right, I clearly don’t know how to “embrace imperfection” at this point in my day (or life), but I do remember learning this lesson once before. And yes, I’m quite sure it was the Holy Spirit who taught me.
I learned the freedom and joy of the Holy Spirit at Christendom College, of all places, the teeny-tiny, hyper-conservative, traditionalist-leaning Catholic college I went to (of my own volition, yes) in the early 2000s.
It was such a “me” choice to make. I wanted to learn “the Truth,” which in those days I assumed was a perfectly coherent, logical system of wisdom and morality woven together, a detailed yet expansive God-template I could map onto my soul, if I had enough discipline and studied hard enough.
Are you laughing? It makes me laugh, too.
I expected a totality. Sure, I understood that the incomprehensible Godhead was in himself not totalizable, or completely knowable by me. (I think I understood that). But I assumed that this “Truth” thing (which I saw as something of a “knowledge and behavior” template leading directly to oneness with God) must be consumable and ready to be emulated in perfection.
Well, color me “surprised by joy,” as they say, to discover how ridiculous that is. Truly. I would not have believed it or taken it seriously anywhere but the hyper-conservative Christendom College, but in those early years of school, even I could not help but notice that “the Truth” is a Person, and that that Person is Love, and Joy, and Compassion, and Mystery.
Sure, I studied my doctrine, memorizing paragraph after paragraph of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and parsing my Summa. But even those beacons of catechetical specificity would not let me rest with a vision of a static, unchanging God or universe. Ultimately, even the Catechism and the Summa beckon toward wonder, pointing beyond themselves to an elusive, inviting God of beauty and surprise.
Luckily for my mental health, as seriously as I accidentally take every fucking detail of life (and, let’s be honest, myself), I am also embarrassingly silly, and do require a good bit of fun. (I am quite certain this is what’s saved me from total breakdown in life).
I made a rule for myself early in college that if I was invited to do anything social (drive to D.C., go out dancing, go drinking down at the River), I must do so. I knew I would be much more likely to study too much than to party too much, so I obligated myself to have fun whenever the opportunity arose. (Praise God for that little bit of practical wisdom)!
One such day of putting term papers on hold resulted in my formal introduction to the Holy Spirit. Maria (may she rest in peace), Sophia and I drove into D.C., planning to hit our three favorite places: Caribou Coffee (sure, there were much cooler coffee spots in the city, but we were from the suburbs, and we went to Christendom–this was as hipster as we could handle back in the day), Paolo’s in Georgetown for dinner, and, of course, the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (again, hello, we were from Christendom. We listened to hip hop on the car ride and were giggling, swearing messes walking up the steps to the Shrine, but we had our proper mass journals and modest attire, too).
The Shrine has a gift shop, and it was there that I discovered a little booklet dedicated solely to the Holy Spirit. There was nothing crazy about it–it must have been put out by OSV, or TAN books or something, but the cover, illuminated by a dove soaring through the sky, immediately caught my attention. And the description of the Holy Spirit–the Person of the Trinity who inspires, the one who literally IS THE LOVE between the Father and Son . . . Holy shit. I could not get enough of that.
I still can’t. Suddenly, the whole world opened up to me. Maybe I couldn’t totalize God, but I could meet him everywhere, in every second, in the expected and the unexpected. I could be filled with the Holy Spirit during the Latin liturgy, or in the intimate moments of friendship, sipping Whaler’s Rum with Angela and Christina with our dorm room locked. I imbibed the joy, the wisdom, the gratitude of the Holy Spirit, sitting in the new library reading Aristotle and Teresa of Avila, and drank deeply of the Spirit running through fields with Peter and Mike and Sophia. The Spirit was there listening to Eisley and Over the Rhine, driving on the winding country roads of Northern Virginia, gazing up at the Shenandoah Mountains, and the Spirit met me dancing to Lil’ Jon in Katie’s VW Beetle with Lauren.
These days, I recognize the power of the Holy Spirit when I walk into my friend Kendra’s house and hug her, both of us giddy, even if we’ve seen each other only days ago. I know the Spirit is present in her person, and her home, filled as it is with unorthodox sacramentals: a waterfall in the entryway, bossa nova playing in the background, a communion of lovingly, creatively prepared food, and a deck filled with flowers and fairies. I know the power of the Holy Spirit in every relationship of love that continues to bear fruit: when I see Lauren at my door, and we literally jump up and down, still that excited to see each other, 15 years after our friendship began. I know the Spirit in the love between my husband and I, for whom grace must be operative. We have basically all the same weaknesses and all the same strengths–the fact that we keep forgiving and loving each other is absolutely the grace of the Holy Spirit. And I notice as I write this that my heart rate has slowed, my children have become quieter, and my mind has ceased racing quite so obsessively about all the sickness in the house. Maybe I can welcome this new life in the Spirit, after all.
Come, Holy Spirit. Fill the hearts of thy faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of thy love. I need you, I trust you, I love you.
Holly Mohr lives and works in Pittsburgh, PA with her husband and two (soooo close to three!) children. She prays to be more present and more filled with the Holy Spirit for them.
Image courtesy of Pixabay