As a child my images of the Holy Ghost were fraught with unease, almost fear. I conjured up visions of some strange white-sheeted apparition shot through with holes. It had something to do with God, it was mentioned in the bible, it was promised to us, but what good it could do for me I failed to understand. The possibility of tongues of fire on my head was scary and a great wind filling the house not exactly pleasant. I liked doves, pretty, gentle birds, but why did God choose a parakeet? So I pushed all thoughts and questions about this mystery to the back of my mind. Any prayers I said were directed to Jesus who, because of his human-ness, was relevant to me.
This year as the season of Pentecost fades, the reality of the Holy Spirit—a much friendlier name than Ghost, by the way—has manifested itself insistently, unexpectedly, sometimes urgently. Like the whisper of a gentle breeze the breath of the spirit takes me by surprise, awakens me, and touches the church and all mankind in unfathomable ways.
Recently, I attended a meeting to listen to a talk given by a dedicated environmentalist. I’ve known this man—I’ll call him Charles—for a long time. Never has he spoken to me of his beliefs or of anything spiritual in his life. He has spent years working to save endangered New Zealand birds. He gives hours of his time at Mt Bruce Bird Sanctuary observing and documenting the activities of rare birds in captivity, and cheerfully squats in cold, uncomfortable hides for entire afternoons to photograph tiny birds in their natural habitat. It was an interesting lecture and when the formal talk ended it stimulated many questions and comments. Charles’s knowledge surprised me. He answered questions with ease. But one question stumped him. Someone asked,
‘Charles, why do you do this? What drives you? What keeps you going?’
Charles floundered. At a loss he replied,
‘Oh, well, I don’t know really. Because I like it, I suppose.’
It seemed an unsatisfactory explanation. Charles’s passion for what he does must surely be fired by something more, I thought.
By chance, a week ago I met Charles again. He bounded up to me, bursting with excitement.
‘You remember that question—that one about why I do so much for endangered species? I’ve thought about it ever since, then I suddenly realised-‘
‘I remember, Charles. What’s your answer?’
Charles held out his hand, cupping his fingers, and the words tumbled out.
‘When I hold a tiny grey warbler in the palm of my hand, so small and light, like a breath, and I think that she, this tiny little bird, might be feeding a nestful of shining cuckoo fledglings, well—that’s why I do it! I’m filled with wonder! I’m overwhelmed by the wonder of it all!’
It was an extraordinary moment. No tongues of fire here, no mighty wind, but a deep and rich awakening that somehow, I like to think, has added something new and bright and lasting to Charles’s life and work.
Margaret Orange is a parishioner at St Mary’s, Carterton.