By Prioress Sister Phyllis McMurray, OSB
Tongues as of fire appeared, which parted and came to rest on each of them. All were filled with the Holy Spirit. They began to express themselves in foreign tongues and make bold proclamation as the Spirit prompted them. (Acts 2:3-4)
In the Old Testament, fire was often a mysterious sign of God’s presence. God first spoke to Moses from a bush that was burning but not consumed by the fire. God led the people at night on their journey through the desert with a column of fire.
In the New Testament, John the Baptist linked fire in a special way to the Holy Spirit when he said that Jesus would “baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16) And Jesus later told us his purpose in coming, “I have come to light a fire on the earth. How I wish the blaze were ignited! (Luke 12:49)
At the Easter Vigil each year we experience the lighting of the fire and as each candle is lit, the room becomes full of light. That experience helps us visualize the tongues of fire that came to rest on each of the disciples at Pentecost.
What can we learn about the Holy Spirit’s working in us from the nature of fire? Fire gives light and warmth and so does the Holy Spirit. The light helps us to see clearly and the warmth moves us to spread the light to others.
The Hasidim tell a tale about light that has a message for us:
“Master,” the disciple confessed, “When I study or join others in great feasts, I feel a strong sense of light and life. But when it’s over, it’s all gone; everything dies in me.”
And the old Rabbi replied, “Ah, yes, of course. It is just this feeling that happens when a person walks through the woods alone at night. If another joins the traveler with a lantern, they can walk safely and
joyfully together. But if they come to a crossroads and the one with the lantern departs, then the other must grope her way along—unless she carries her own light within her.”
This is our story.
We follow the light of Jesus who generated a new light at Pentecost. And there is great light right here in community. We follow the light that belongs to each of our Sisters, our companions on our journey in community.
We have the light within us. We know where the light comes from and we are expected to spread that light ourselves—in our own time and place.
Albert Schweitzer said, “Sometimes our light goes out, but it is blown again into flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled the light.”
We count on each other to fan the embers into flame for us when our light dims. How can we help rekindle the light for others when we become aware of their need for assistance? How can we share our lantern with one another in times of darkness?
The “tongues of fire” which appeared over the heads of the disciples on Pentecost signified not only their reception of the Holy Spirit, but also prefigured the zeal that would characterize their preaching and their witness of the Gospel message. They immediately began to make “bold proclamation as the Spirit prompted them.” (Acts 2:4)
The disciples were fearful before Pentecost, but after receiving the Holy Spirit they were bold. Sometimes we too are fearful, yet we need to recognize the light of the Holy Spirit within us that gives us the strength and courage to carry on.
Faithful to and permeated by a life of lectio, Liturgy of the Hours, the common life, and our monastic promises, we can be hope-filled in a world of turmoil and live confidently into the future. We invite you to join us.