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Kaya OakesMay 17, 2023
woman praying in crowdPhoto by Igor Rodrigues, courtesy of Unsplash.

Reflection for the Sixth Wednesday of Easter

Find today’s readings here.

The medieval mystic Hildegard Von Bingen was a multitasker to a degree that would put many of us to shame. Abbess of her monastery, herbalist who acted as the doctor to her community, preacher against clerical corruption, composer of ethereal music and inventor of her own language, Hildegard’s restless imagination could not be confined to one outlet. Like many women who experienced mystical visions, Hildegard also frequently spoke and wrote about these visions as gifts from the Holy Spirit.

In one of Hildegard’s antiphons, the Spirit is described as “a life that bestows life,” the “root of the world-tree,” and “all-awakening.” In the Alleluias of this season, the Spirit is an “advocate,” and in John’s Gospel today, the Spirit is a “guide.”

While our images and metaphors prove useful, sometimes we actually need to let them go.

Metaphors and images like these can be helpful in prayer when we might grasp for the right words for our own spiritual experiences. But they can also lead to a kind of static or interference, the mental clutter we might experience in a particularly Baroque church crammed with dozens or even hundreds of images. When Paul tells the Athenians that God “does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands,” he means that whatever we construct, whether mental or physical, cannot contain God or the Spirit, both of whom give us “life and breath and anything.”

So while our images and metaphors prove useful, sometimes we actually need to let them go. Sometimes prayer just needs to be simplified down to the movement of our breath.

Churches, temples and shrines are containers. But God and the Spirit who breathes God into life in us cannot be contained by them. Faith, too, is not a door that opens and closes, but a movement that ebbs and flows, sometimes in a billow, and sometimes as faintly as a whisper, but still sustaining, still giving life.

More: Scripture

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