More Spiritual Reflections

Spiritual Reflections


Led by the Spirit

Sr. Michel Keenan, IHM
March 13, 2005

"Led by the Spirit" is the theme of today's retreat reflection. It is a challenging theme and draws on both our experience and our knowledge of the Lord's Word as found in the Scriptures. How presumptuous it would be to talk about the Holy Spirit if we did not have these resources!


From the Old Testament we have cultivated several concepts of WHO the Spirit is. In the Book of Genesis we read that while yet "the earth was a formless void, and there was darkness over the deep, God's spirit hovered over the water" (Gen. 1:2)— hovering, as Deuteronomy (32:11) says, "Like a bird hanging in the air over its young in the nest." I like to think of the Spirit hovering over us right now like that! Hovering, then and now as one involved in both the initial life and the on-going life of all things.

The Psalmist exclaims, "Yahweh, what variety you have created, arranging everything so wisely!...You give breath, FRESH LIFE BEGINS, You keep renewing the world." (Psalm 104:24,30) Who is there who would say "No" to "fresh life"? Or to renewal? None of us, for sure!

Then, in the Book of Kings (19:11-13) we have the more nebulous notion of "a still small voice" in the story of Elijah's encounter with the wind, an earthquake, and fire, — in none of which the Spirit was found, but in a still small voice" The Spirit was found.

The Holy Spirit is the "breath of God," the breath of new life in us. Just as the prophet Ezechiel said of the "dry bones" he encountered, so he says to us, "I am now going to make the Spirit enter yon and yon shall live." (Ez37:5) And "I shall give yon a new heart, and put a new Spirit in yon...(Ez.36:26-7). If we sincerely wish to change our hearts, - and isn't that the Lenten message" - let us give the Holy Spirit free reign in leading us.


New Testament images of the Spirit include the familiar image of the Holy Spirit as one of the three persons of the Trinity; the power from on High which overshadowed Mary at her conception; (Luke 1:45) "the Advocate sent by the Father" (John 14:16-17); the Sanctifier, making us holy; (John 3:8) and 2 Cor. 3) the enlightener, the teacher, prompting our understanding; the source of the love of God, of truth and of life; and the cause of our freedom, making us children of God as St. Paul says, "God has sent the Spirit into our are not a slave anymore, but an heir." (1 Cor.l2:7-10)

These are some Scriptural images. How have we responded ?

In their preaching the apostles warned of resisting OR SUPPRESSING the Spirit. Timothy, for example, (2 Tim. 1:7,14) writes: "I am reminding you now to fan into a flame the gift that God gave you. God's gift was not a spirit of timidity, but the Spirit of power, and love, and self-control.... You have been trusted to look after something precious; guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us," IT IS THE SPIRIT WHO LEADS US IN THAT VERY ACT OF "FANNING THE GIFT INTO FLAME." FOR THE HOLY SPIRIT IS BOTH THE GIVER AND THE GIFT! We need to acknowledge the Giver, and ask for the Gift.

I didn't count the times, but one scholar said that the phrase "filled (or led) by the Spirit" occurs 50 times in the New Testament.(Don't worry, I'm not going to cite the entire 50!)

We can see what it means to be "led by the Spirit" as we read the account in Luke's gospel of Simeon at the time of Jesus' presentation in the temple.

Luke describes Simeon as one on whom the Holy Spirit rested, and it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord. Maybe he wasn't even planning on going to the Temple, but ..., "prompted by the Spirit, Simeon came to the temple." (Luke 2:25-27) and there found His Savior.

We see also in Jesus' life how important to the effectiveness of His ministry was the power of the Holy Spirit. Luke says (4:14) "Jesus, with the power of the Spirit in Him, returned to Galilee; and his reputation spread throughout the countryside." And again in ACTS (10:38) "God had anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power and because God was with him, Jesus went about doing good and curing all...."

In the lives of the apostles and disciples we also see what it means to be "led by the Spirit". The miraculous conversion story of Pentecost can be summed up, as it is in Acts 2:1-5, in the simple words "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.." There are many references in Acts to Peter, Paul, Barnabas, Stephen, and others preaching boldly and with great success because they "were filled with the Spirit."

These are only a few examples of the ways in which persons "led by the Spirit" were able to serve as more effective instruments in God's plan. I think you see the application to us: led by the Spirit, like Simeon, we will find Jesus; He will let us find Him: like Jesus, led by the Spirit, we will seek out the needy, — not only the victims of far away disasters, but also , the Sisters in our own local communities; and we will address the ills of our world through prayer and action; like the Apostles, led by the Spirit, we will also become faithful interpreters of God's Word, faithful witnesses, as Fr. Gillet would say; and we will give our lives in His service.

Each of us has experienced the Spirit as a source of enlightenment on our journey, even from the time we were first discerning our vocation until now; often we have experienced the Spirit as a source of strength in difficult times. I like to think of the Spirit as that inspirational "small, still voice." Whether one's present state is one of retirement, prayer ministry, active, or semi-active , each can experience being "led by the Spirit" when we think of that Presence coming to us as a "small, still voice," and LISTEN TO IT.

I am grateful to Sr.Maria Rose Kelly (and the Holy Spirit) who directed me to an internet article by A,B. Simpson from his book "The Holy Spirit or Power from on High". This work expands the idea of the "still, small voice" leading us, noting the difference between a sound and a voice. Of the Old Testament story of Elijah, Simpson writes: The earthquake, whirlwind and fire had sound, but no voice...

But "the still, small voice" had behind it an intelligent mind, a living personality,

a loving heart,..."

Simpson writes further:

" A voice means the presence of the person who speaks, and his personal and living words to us. And so God speaks to us, not only in the Bible, but by His own personal voice," the Holy Spirit.

How will the Holy Spirit speak to us? The voice will speak, but we have to LISTEN.

There is not one of us, no matter our age or condition, who does not wish to know God better and to grow in love of Him. This knowledge is available to us, as St. Paul writes, "God reveals Himself to us through the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit reaches the depths of everything, even the depths of God." (1 Cor.2:10-16) "Be still and know that I am God."

Be still, that's the challenge, isn't it? For the voice will not be heard by the ear, but by the heart. Be still... But who's making all the noise? Often, we ourselves are, with our own restless spirit. Our Constitutions speak of silence, solitude and recollection as means to grow in union with God; they also state that it is an individual's right to an atmosphere of silence, and that this should be respected. (S22) We must ask the Holy Spirit for deeper knowledge of God through silent reflection, and for the generosity to provide that quiet space for others.

Again, there is not one of us who does not wish to learn to pray better. Is our community prayer becoming a breathless race to be finished? Is there any time spent reflecting on the Scriptural reading included in the Office? Rattling off the words will not put us in touch with the Holy Spirit. Then, when we come to private prayer it is often quite ordinary, with fatigue, physical ailments, and lethargy holding us back. Mostly, we experience distractions, darkness and dryness. We blame ourselves: if only I could concentrate harder; if only I had greater powers of insight or imagination then I could really make a worthy prayer.

This is no time for "I"; this is the moment when we have to let the Holy Spirit help us and pray in us. This is exactly one of the roles of the Holy Spirit: to be that still, small voice in our hearts which is described by St. Paul (Romans 8:26-27).

"The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness. For when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words; "....

THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR KEEPING THE SPIRIT FROM LEADING US IN PRAYER. We need only admit our inadequacy and ask the Spirit to help us. We have to make the Spirit REAL AND ALIVE as we pray...yes, move over a bit and make room for His presence!

Do we really want a deeper spirituality or are we content to remain where we started in the spiritual life? We say we want it. Then we must shake up these dry bones and recognize the connection between our growth in spirituality and our reliance on the Holy Spirit

The deeper spirituality for which we long is ours under the "leading of the Spirit". Creatively, the Holy Spirit will surprise us with more than we ever could ask or imagine! The Spirit brings us a crystal clear insight into ourselves, (sometimes not a pretty picture!) as well as knowledge that we have been redeemed. Our case is not hopeless...we can be changed. UNLESS IN PRIDE AND ARROGANCE WE DON'T THINK WE NEED TO IMPROVE ! But we are absolutely sure that everyone else does! We need to apply the same critique to ourselves as we do to others...Then we'll all be Saints!

So it is important to note that the power of the Holy Spirit leads us to the deep desire to change, if we but ask. And, just as in the Creation account "the Spirit of God was hovering over the water...waiting to change it and give it new form, so too with us, "the Spirit is hovering over us, waiting to change us, so that what is unfinished becomes full of promise. We, too, will be looked upon by God, and God will see that "it is good," as we continue to seek our conversion on a deeper level. This is the ultimate affirmation: that God sees that "it is good."

LET US THEN PUT OURSELVES UNDER THE LOVE AND GUIDANCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT..and allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit...Let us be people of HOPE, knowing, as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote:

"The Holy Spirit over the bent world broods,

With warm breast, And with, AH! BRIGHT WINGS!"