By Karen Muensterman
Connecting Faith and Life
For several years I had an office in the school building at Resurrection Parish that was right next door to the office of our maintenance supervisor, Dan. Dan and I would visit from time to time as neighbors do. Our conversations usually started out on some mundane topic, like the weather, but we almost always ended up talking about spiritual matters; more specifically, spiritual “signs” that occurred in our lives.
When Catholics speak of signs of the spirit, they often refer to the common signs: wind — like the wind that roared through the room where the disciples of Jesus had gathered during the Pentecost; or fire — like the flames that descended over the disciples’ heads; or a dove — like the one that appeared during the baptism of Jesus.
But neither Dan nor I ever spoke of these common signs of the spirit. There were no flames, doves or roaring winds in our conversations. Instead, we spoke of signs of the spirit that we encountered in our own lives — signs that other people would never see as significant even though they were deeply meaningful for us in the moments we had encountered them — like peanut shells scattered on a beach or a dragonfly landing on a wind chime.
One of the most wonderful things about our Catholic faith is that it gives us common experiences, such as the Mass; common prayers, such as the rosary; and common images, such as the Crucifix. Through these shared experiences, prayers and images, we can all experience God together. Shared experience is a beautiful thing, but it can also be limiting. If we only experience God in religious places and through religious language and images, we may be missing out on other experiences that are just as profound.
Because God gives us another meaningful way to experience His presence and that is through our own personal experiences in life — through our inner thoughts and deepest emotions, through the dreams that ripple through our unconscious minds at night and through the sights, sounds, scents and tastes that we encounter during our days.
In the Pentecost story, the devout people from “every nation under heaven” who had gathered to listen to the disciples talk about God are astounded and amazed when they realize that they are all hearing them speaking in their own native languages. How was it possible for one voice to speak and for each person present to hear that one voice speaking his own language?
It was possible because the Holy Spirit speaks the language of our personal lives — the language of peanut shells and dragonflies and a million other seemingly insignificant things. The Holy Spirit is the voice of one God speaking intimately to each of us in our dreams, our feelings, our thoughts and insights, sounds and scents that are meaningful to us and to us alone — unless, of course, we decide to share them.
There was a time when I would have said that the three signs of the Holy Spirit were wind, fire and a dove; but now I would say that those are the common signs — the ones most Catholics and other Christians recognize. But there are other signs of the spirit that are just as significant, meaningful and profound. And the more we look for those signs in our own lives, and the more we share them with our neighbors, the more aware we will be of the Spirit of God moving in and around and between us.