The ancient Pentecost hymn is Veni Creator Spiritus. “Come Creator Spirit.” We invoke, we implore the Spirit to fall upon us because without her we are lifeless—like Ezekiel’s dry bones. This is the spirit who brooded over the face of the deep, Genesis tells us, and brought forth from the primal elements the whole cosmos. The spirit is the Genius of creation. She is the breath of God, the one who can inspire us to love and life.
But as powerful as the Spirit is, she is also highly deferential. The Spirit won’t come upon you if you resist, if you say No….thank you.
There an arresting poem by Czeslaw Milosz, the Polish poet who won the Nobel Prize in 1980. It’s called “Veni Creator.” Listen for a man who wants the Spirit more than anything, but who is also . . . hesitant.
Come, Holy Spirit,
bending or not bending the grasses,
appearing or not above our heads in a tongue of flame,
at hay harvest or when they plough in the orchards or when snow
covers crippled firs in the Sierra Nevada.
I am only a man: I need visible signs.
I tire easily, building the stairway of abstraction.
Many a time I asked, you know it well, that the statue in church
lifts its hand, only once, just once, for me.
But I understand that signs must be human,
therefore call one man, anywhere on earth,
not me—after all I have some decency—
and allow me, when I look at him, to marvel at you.
The speaker has a deep sense of awe and wonder at the whole creation, over which the Spirit broods. He sees the divine glory “at hay harvest or when they plough in the orchards or when snow/ covers crippled firs in the Sierra Nevada.” But he knows the ultimate expression of the Spirit is when one human being opens her heart to receive that power and glory. “I understand that signs must be human.”
Yet he’s afraid to give himself to the Spirit. “Call one man,” he says, just “not me—after all I have some decency.”
He’s afraid, reluctant to give himself to the Spirit. What might God do with me? Where might the wind of the Spirit blow me? What—in me—might the fire of the Spirit burn away in glory? What courage would it take to follow the Spirit? What would my friends think (the ones who also “have some decency”)?
We all have that sad, unfortunate “decency,” that will not allow us to let it go, to be a holy fool, to be carried by the wind of the Spirit and purged clean by the fire of love. It’s easier to say—Call her! Call him! Let me see the Spirit in them…indirectly, but not me.
Poetry By Mary Oliver “The Journey”
“One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice–
though the whole house began to tremble and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.”
That’s the beginning of a poem I keep close to remind me to fight (albeit poorly) the decency