Last night was the second of three weekly Tuesday night gatherings I’m leading at the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes to discuss Jack Levison’s Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when my friend Fr. Dan Griffith, the pastor at Lourdes, asked me lead a book group this summer: Lourdes does not generally do evening programs and parishes generally do very little once June rolls around. We put out the flyer and I crossed my fingers hoping that we’d get at least a handful. To my delight, 23 people are participating!
I picked Levison’s book because for several reasons. First, it seems to me that the Holy Spirit often gets short shrift. We know that we get the gift of the spirit at Pentecost, some of us can even list the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but we don’t spend a lot of time focusing on that person of the Trinity. Since June is the month in which we celebrate Pentecost, the Holy Spirit seemed a good focus. Second, the book is readable. Many books about the Holy Spirit are heavy theology and don’t make for accessible reading. This is intended for a lay audience. Third, it is heavily biblical. That is especially important for Catholics, who often don’t spend a lot of time with the Bible, except for those passages that are part of our Lectionary. (As the author suggests, however, even those who generally read the Bible more than many Catholics do, tend to focus on a limited number of passages.) Finally, it is challenging. What I want us to do is really grapple with how we understand the Holy Spirit and how the Spirit operates in our lives.
Our discussion last night, like the first, was rich. We began with a discussion of why the author finds Simeon to be a model for receiving the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is from Simeon and the words and ideas of Isaiah that are lodged in what we now call the Canticle of Simeon that Levison develops his three step model of “routine maintenance” that I mentioned once before.
I asked the participants to share what is their own “routine maintenance,” how they keep themselves open to the Holy Spirit. The sharing was very moving and enlightening for all of us. It wasn’t just the actual individual practices (whether the Rosary, Adoration, scripture prayer and study, spiritual reading) that was moving, as exciting as it was to hear the different ways people incorporate prayer into their lives. And it wasn’t just the underlying common themes – gratitude, relationality, and the like.
What moved me was both the fidelity and the desire expressed in the words people shared. The desire to be touched by God and led by God. The desire to be God’s instruments in the world. It was heartening.
Levison says in his book that “If we want to be inspired, if we yearn to have God’s spirit upon us, then we need to hunker down for the long haul by maintaining the relationship we have with God and God with us.” I saw evidence last night of people doing exactly that – and that in itself was inspiring to me.