What is it like to receive the Holy Spirit? Is the experience for most of us like it is described in the scriptures for the apostles in the upper room at Pentecost?
When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together and suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. -Acts 2:1-4 NAB
Probably not. In fact I don’t know anybody who has had an experience quite so dramatic. I think that just as a great deal more energy is required to get a rocket off of the launch pad than it takes to keep it in orbit, the Holy Spirit manifested in the lives of believers much more obviously at the birth of the church than it does in the lives of most believers today. No less powerfully, but as a quieter strength, running deep in our hearts and minds.
So what is it like for today’s Christian? As we come to the closing days of Easter for this year and approach Pentecost it is good to reflect on this. Not only meditating upon what it is like to receive God’s Spirit but, how we embrace the gift and recognize what this gift calls us to be and do. A tall order indeed. Here is something that may help. Cyril of Jerusalem said this in the fourth century while reflecting on John 7:38 “The water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of living water, welling up into eternal life”
This is a new kind of water, a living, leaping water, welling up for those who are worthy. But why did Christ call the grace of the Spirit water? Because all things are dependent on water; plants and animals have their origin in water. Water comes down from heaven as rain, and although it is always the same in itself, it produces many different effects, one in the palm tree, another in the vine, and so on throughout the whole of creation. It does not come down, now as one thing, now as another, but while remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it.
In the same way the Holy Spirit, whose nature is always the same, simple and indivisible, apportions grace to each person as he wills. Like a dry tree which puts forth shoots when watered, the soul bears the fruit of holiness when repentance has made it worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit. Although the Spirit never changes, the effects of his action, by the will of God and in the name of Christ, are both many and marvelous.
The Spirit makes one person a teacher of divine truth, inspires another to prophesy, gives another the power of casting out devils, enables another to interpret holy Scripture. The Spirit strengthens one person’s self-control, shows another how to help the poor, teaches another to fast and lead a life of asceticism, makes another oblivious to the need of the body, trains another for martyrdom. His action is different in different people, but the Spirit himself is always the same. In each person, Scripture says, the Spirit reveals his presence in a particular way for the common good.
The Spirit comes gently and makes himself known by his fragrance. He is not felt as a burden, for he is light, very light. Rays of light and knowledge stream before him as he approaches. The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend and protector to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, to console. The Spirit comes to enlighten the mind first of the one who receives him, and then, through him, the minds of others as well.
As light strikes the eyes of one who comes out of darkness into the sunshine and enables that person to see clearly things he or she could not discern before, so light floods the soul of the one counted worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit and enables that person to see things beyond the range of human vision, things hitherto undreamed of.
by Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386 AD)