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  • Writer's pictureJessica Curbis

Breath, Fire, Dove

...I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life...

In the beloved classic, the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy accidently travels to Oz by tornado and then spends the entire movie trying to get home, only to be informed at the very end of the film (spoiler alert) that she had the means all along, with the ruby slippers everyone seems to have forgotten she’s wearing. The Holy Spirit is kind of like that. No, really. The Holy Spirit is by far the most forgotten member of the Trinity; yet it has always been moving among us, within us, surrounding us with God’s life and love.

As the giver of life, the Holy Spirit was there when the world was created, when humanity was created. God breathed life into humanity in Genesis 2:7. Ruah, the Hebrew word used there, translates to breath and spirit. God’s Spirit, God’s Breath literally giving life to humanity. In John 20:22 this happens again; Jesus breathes onto the disciple and remarks that he is giving them the Holy Spirit, yet another connection between John and Genesis. The Holy Spirit is often understood now as that breath in both stories, the Breath of God that gives life.

There is also the Pentecost story in Acts 2, which tells of tongues of fire resting on those in the upper room (Acts 2:3). This too is understood as the Holy Spirit, giving them the ability to preach and teach, each according to the gifts they already possessed, with the help of the fire of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit was already there of course but now remains in a different way with those who will share the message of Christ.

We know that we have access to the Holy Spirit through our faith. The giving of the Holy Spirit is often a little confusing, as, like Dorothy, we know that we already have it. For Christians, specifically, we believe that the Holy Spirit descends on us in Baptism, just like it did for Jesus in his Baptism story. But Catholics also receive the sacrament of Confirmation, but we don’t receive the Holy Spirit again. We can’t. But it is perfected. It is renewed. It is strengthened in Confirmation.

One last note about the Holy Spirit. It is quite obvious that the other aspects of the Trinity are often (if not always) portrayed as males, given the roots in patriarchal society of both our present world and the world our faith grew up in. The Holy Spirit certainly also has its stereotypes; theologian Sandra Schnieders aptly reminds us that God is not “two men and a bird”, referring to the dove that the Holy Spirit was depicted as in religious art and now lives in the minds of Christians as the symbol of the Holy Spirit. Although this is a beautiful image (and it's easier to depict this way for many reasons, one being pure recognition), I would (once again) like to challenge us to move a bit outside our comfort zones. The Holy Spirit is by definition formless. It doesn’t have to have a shape, but if it does, if it is easier to understand with a shape; let us broaden our minds a bit. Perhaps we could imagine the Holy Spirit as a feminine figure. Or a more ethereal form, like a cloud. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is in fact a pair of ruby slippers. Perhaps not. If we are hesitant to consider our Trinitarian God in new ways, perhaps we can begin first by seeing the Holy Spirit with new eyes.

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