“The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.”
― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets
(The window of the Holy Spirit designed by Lorenzo Bernini , 1660 / St Peter’s Basilica, The Vatican, Rome, Italy / Julie Cook / 2007)
My 91 year old godmother called me yesterday.
She is actually my godmother by adoption as she and her husband, my godfather, were not my “official” godparents when I was baptized (Christened as we like to say in the Anglican realm of my world) at the ripe old age of 6 months. I was “adopted” by them when I was about 15 years old—which was a key moment in my life of which I will one day share. And it only seems fitting that as an adopted child, I should have adopted godparents, as even my godfather was adopted. . .but as I say, adoption is for another day.
For 91 years of age, my godmother may appear physically broken of body, but never of spirit.
She is a formidable warrior in the battle of all things Spiritual despite her now stooping and markedly bent frame.
As with anybody who lives on this earth, she too has known her fair share of frustration, hardships, agonies of the heart– as only a mother can, having felt both discouragement as well as despair. Just because one is considered a mighty spiritual warrior or committed to ones faith never exempts that individual from pain, sorrow or suffering. I often believe the exact opposite to be true. That those who are more inclined to the Spiritual find a greater assault of the hard, the negative and the difficult.
Her stories usually follow a convoluted journey with the point sometimes being remembered, sometimes not. Either way, I learn something new every time. Yesterday was certainly no exception as she held true to form throughout our conversation, weaving and wobbling on one trail of thought to another.
I’m not certain how we got on the subject, as is often the case with her.
I merely ask a simple question such as “how are you?” An hour or so later, as we weave our way from present to past and back again, I am often taken to task, reminded of what really matters, humbled or feel as if I’ve been, as Paul on his road to Damascus, knocked from my place only to be put in my place.
Somehow she got on the subject of a man that she and her husband, my godfather, had once known and worked with.
I had often heard my godfather reference this man in his later sermons, sermons near the end of his tenure as the dean of the Cathedral.
The man’s name is David du Plessis. Or maybe I should say was as he died in 1987.
David du Plessis was a South African Pentecostal minister who was eventually made a naturalized citizen of the United States. His story is steeped in a great and abiding trust in a God which would certainly lead him on a very long yet marvelous journey.
I encourage you to read about Rev. du Plessis, as I have now begun to do so. However it would be too lengthy for me to jump on that tangent today.
At some point, I think in the late 1970’s, an ecumenical group in Atlanta consisting of Catholics, Episcopalians and other various protestant members, had asked Rev. du Plessis to come address an important conference. The conference happened to be held at the Cathedral of St Philip, the church where my godfather was the dean.
Not attending the meeting himself but feeling obliged as the head rector of the hosting church, my godfather made his way to find Rev du Plessis before the meeting began, to personally welcome him to the church as well as to introduce himself as the hosting rector.
My godfather was already aware that Rev du Plessis was very active in the Renewal movement that was currently taking place in both the Catholic and Episcopal churches as he was proving to be a key component. Rev du Plessis had actually been invited by the Vatican in 1975 to address an ecumenical council held at St Peter’s in Rome of both Catholic and Anglican renewal groups.
As my godfather introduced himself, he wanted to make certain that Rev du Plessis realized that he, my godfather, was very familiar with the work of the Holy Spirit–going to great lengths to explain that he had been prayed to receive the Spirit as a baby when he was baptized, later when he was confirmed in the church, and still again later when he was ordained as a priest. As most ministers want fellow ministers to understand that they too “get it,” my godfather certainly wanted Rev du Plessis to understand that he too knew all about the Holy Spirit.
Rev du Plessis listened politely then warmly smiled telling my godfather that he had no doubts that my godfather had indeed been prayed over to receive the Holy Spirit into his heart and life but the question was not whether my godfather had the Spirit, but rather did the Spirit have my godfather.
This was the “ah ha” moment for my godfather and a pivotal changing point in not only his role as a priest but most importantly in his life.
A moment that left him speechless, troubled and found him quickly changing the subject.
His assumption had always been that as one who had been prayed for to receive the Spirit of God, the Spirit therefore had entered. . .had He not?
And so I was left yesterday, at the end of the story also wondering–not so much about my godfather as I knew he had eventually gone on to be a leading figure in the Renewal movement in both the Anglican and Catholic communities, not only in Atlanta but worldwide as he too traveled to Rome in 1980 to address a conference under the direction of Pope John Paul II.
But I wondered. . .what about my own dealings with the Spirit?
Did I have the Spirit or did the Spirit have me?
As that is now the nagging question. . .