If the Holy Spirit is a fire, a wind, a flowing stream of water, or an endless ray of light, how do we apprehend it? How do we converse or interact with what cannot be held in the hands or seen with the eye or known in the mind?
Perhaps we try too hard to comprehend divine movement through traditional ways of knowing. For many of us in the Western Hemisphere—or at least those of us of European descent who are children of the Enlightenment—knowing is usually about words, facts, quantities, qualities that can be defined and measured. Knowing requires that we can explain something, usually through written words or numerical values.
There are other ways of knowing, however. We know through our physical senses. We know through our dreams. We know through deep intuition and passionate emotion. We know through movement and through silence. Sometimes we know through symbols and metaphors—such as the rushing wind of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
As a writer and editor, I have spent a career working with words, with ideas expressed through phrases and grammar. I have learned how to use language so that it can represent precisely what I mean. Words have been my primary way of knowing for most of my life.
A few years ago, I needed interior rest. I struggled with depression; I was weary of many things, but I could not go on vacation or otherwise escape from my realities.
So I decided to try to recover an activity I had loved as a child—long before I worked with words or had adult responsibilities. I bought some nice colored pencils, and found some coloring books filled with mandala patterns. I began to sit in the evenings, sometimes with the television on, with my husband sitting nearby, and each evening I chose a pattern and began to work on it. Some of the more intricate patterns took days to finish. I experimented with color combinations and with layering colors, with shading and highlighting.
And as I did so, something inside me unclenched. I could feel fresh air moving through my brain and heart and life. I became absorbed with mere color and pattern and allowed words to sit by the wayside during these evening sessions of coloring.
Gradually, I recovered an early sense of knowing through color, symbol, and the intuitive desire for this shade rather than that one. Another part of me was awakening, and it made the rest of me feel much better.
I encourage you to try something this week that is off the beaten path for you. If you are a word person, then go to something other than words. If you are a person who moves around a lot, very active physically, then try settling down, and vice-versa. Allow other parts of yourself to wake up and learn to be sensitive again. Prayer is, after all, simply a focused form of paying attention. And we attend to life in many ways. Do some exploring, and see what happens.
The Holy Spirit has inspired many artists to use their talents to express their faith. The Loyola Press Arts and Faith series will celebrate some of these contemporary artists during the next month.