On Being Born Again and Again and Again
A brief reflection on the enveloping and disruptive power of the Holy Spirit
by Joanna ES Campbell
All my fine things are starting to unravel, and I know why. It’s the Holy Spirit. Or rather, it’s the vintage Guatemalan Espirito Santo ring I bought in Santa Fe. There’s a dove perched on the silver band, and its beak, wings, and tail deftly pull at my seams.
v My purple lacey bra.
v My favorite powder blue washcloth from Anthropologie, the one I found on sale.
v The lining of my red silk robe. (Okay, actually it’s polyester, but still, it shimmers and feels like cool water.)
v The pocket of my pinstriped “boyfriend” jeans.
I didn’t know the spiritual significance of the ring. I asked the shopkeeper for the ring’s story. The words, Espirito Santo, sounded vaguely familiar, a distant echo of something I knew I’d heard before. Yes, I took Spanish in high school and college, and yes, sometimes things will stare me in the face for hours, days, weeks, and years before I wake up to the plain-as-day meaning. Internet research led to a cornucopia of images – stained glass windows of doves, paintings of doves, sculptures of doves – often linked to the words, Veni Sancte Spiritus, which is what we chant during the Gospel procession on Sunday mornings. (I took Latin the one year I attended an all-girls Catholic high school. Whether it was the itchy uniforms or my own rebellious nature, I think I will ever only know how to conjugate the word for farmer: agricola, agricolae, agricolarum, agricolis, agricolas, agrilcolis. The daily Hail Mary never stuck.) Still, this more recent invitation slipped past. Once a week, I’ve been chanting at the top of my lungs for the Holy Spirit to come into my life, and I had no idea. Now I have a little bird on my finger, plain as day.
Also, I am a cradle-born Episcopalian, yet I somehow forgot that doves are a symbol for the Holy Spirit. It comes upon people in Hebrew scripture. It dwells within those who put their faith in Christ in the New Testament. Personally, I like the stories about the Holy Spirit and fire. Maybe they appeal to my forestry background. I like these stories from a safe distance where I can appreciate the theoretical wonderfulness of God arriving as a fire, perhaps a slow, controlled burn allowing for regeneration. Certain pinecones require fire to open and seed. The best morel mushrooms are found in burned areas. I’ve never lost a home to wildfire. I’ve never witnessed my world reduced to ash and rubble, so perhaps my perspective is a bit romanticized.
Here is what I know. My ring looks beautiful and perfect on my right middle finger, and it is messing with my Feng Shui and fashion sense. My fine things now have dangling, off-kilter strands. And, I can’t take the ring off. I don’t know why exactly, but I’ll take these loose threads over not wearing the ring. Perhaps this is the beginning of the Great Unravel. I remember learning once that the Navajo people often intentionally create a mistake in a weaving. Nothing is perfect, and the mistake, known as a spirit line, allows just enough room for the spirit to move through. I like that.
My fine things are fleeting. Even this ring will someday slip free.
I want more. I want more than correct translation. I want more than the sudden realization that these things do not matter in the grand scheme, though it’s not likely I will ever stop seeking beautiful objects.
Perhaps it’s possible we are enveloped by the Holy Spirit without ever realizing it. Perhaps it sneaks in when we are least aware. Are there Bible stories about this happening without some declaration like, “Hello, this is the Holy Spirit here, and I am entering you” or “I am going to descend upon you in waves of tranquility” or “I’m gonna wipe this forest out”?
Sometimes, I need a mundane reminder for the ridiculously abundant gifts of being alive, for the freedom to be a child of God and to stumble with an open-heart in all my daft and clueless ways. Perhaps I am even more foolish when I say: the ring can have all the threads it wants, but this is my incomprehensible desire. Hope is an elixir in the not knowing. There is a slight fearless daring to move forward. Each day, I hope to be born again and again and again.