I was ordained a priest just six days after the death of my father. We had a…complicated relationship…and so my feelings were…complicated. I was grieved, and angry, and stunned. A little numb.
As the procession got closer and closer to the church doors I could hear more and more the congregation thundering through the hymn, “Praise to The Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation.” Perhaps my favorite hymn. But, as we approached the church a lump hit the back of my throat so large that no voice would come out. I mouthed the words, and kept my eyes on the words on the page in front of me. As if I didn’t already know them by heart.
That lump seemed to never leave my throat. When the bishop called on me to answer the prescribed questions with the prescribed answers I was so scared that I’d open my mouth and nothing would come out. Thankfully, I was able to speak after all.
But, then it came time for the actual ordination. The congregation was singing the Taize “Veni Sancte Spiritus.” I came before the bishop and knelt down. The other priests came and gathered around me.
I started to sob. Weep. Uncontrolably. My shoulders were heaving up and down. I was glad the priests were blocking the view of the rest of the congregation, I was crying so hard. I was glad the singing was so loud.
The Veni began to come to the close. It slowed down. It got softer.
And, it was then that the most incredible thing happened. A peace washed over me in waves. The peace just covered me. I remember thinking that I couldn’t have started crying again if I had wanted to. My whole body relaxed and my mind focused on what was going on around me, and what was about to happen to me.
I can’t even describe the immediacy of change. From uncontrolable sobbing to clear-headed calm.
The bishop and the other priests laid their heavy hands on my head. I closed my eyes.
And then I saw her. Her. It was the Holy Spirit. Her face just inches from mine.
She was in the form of the Holy Spirit window in my college chapel – that sacred space which so utterly informed my spirituality in my most formative years. I had gazed up into Her eyes so many times, and there She was again gazing into mine.
I’ve had some powerful spiritual experiences, but that one was one of the best. I know that the Holy Spirit doesn’t always come with a wash of peace. Sometimes the Spirit comes with earthquake and fire. Sometimes the spirit stirs so much that people can barely handle it.
I had never really had a relationship with the Holy Spirit prior to that day. I had had a relationship with God the Father, and with Jesus since before I could remember. I addressed my prayers to each of them, sometimes interchangably, and sometimes specifically.
But, on that day the Holy Spirit sought me out.
Perhaps like the Holy Spirit had come to the disciples on the Day of Pentecost. Luke only gives us a general accounting. But, I do wonder if each of them experienced the spirit differently. Was someone blown away by an overwhelming sense of peace? Was someone jolted like they had grabbed a high-voltage wire? Was someone brought to tears? Was someone brought to uncontrolable laughter?
Paul tells us that when it comes to the Spirit, there are a variety of gifts. The Spirit brings us each unique charisms. But, I also think that the Spirit brings us each unique experiences.