What community can teach us about different spiritualities and the Trinity

I first began to think I had misunderstood charismatic spirituality this summer, when I lived and worked in the Rocky Mountains with a new apostolate. Within the first few days, I was confident that their way of life wasn’t for me, and if it weren’t for the twelve-hour drive home, I might’ve hit the road. But the Holy Spirit had greater things planned for me.

After I spent months in quarantine hungering for community and preparing over Zoom for my time with the apostolate, I was crushed upon arrival to find their practices so foreign to my own. I ached for the familiar. Spontaneous praise, differences in the Liturgy of the Hours, and the role of music in their prayer made me more than uncomfortable, and I didn’t approach these variations with much patience. Assumptions that they didn’t know or love the same Church as me destroyed countless chances in the first week for me to actually get to know who they were and what they were about. 

My hastily drawn conclusions not only hurt those relationships in the beginning, but they were also the source of the pain I was experiencing; judgement, it would seem, is a two-edged sword. As we heard last week in the Gospel, “ For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Mt. 7:2). 

After a couple weeks, my fight or flight instinct dissipated. As we read Scripture and worked on projects together, I realized their theology was sound and their spiritual lives were extremely rich. I never would have thought I would trek through the Rockies praying a rosary in Hebrew, or fall in love with the Byzantine Divine Liturgy. I read about Eastern spirituality, celebrated Shabbat, and spoke with priests and sisters from several continents who had spent decades on mission in the Holy Land, New Zealand, China, and France. These conversations showed me that quarantine had starved me of formation by leading me to step outside what was familiar to explore questions I hadn’t considered in a long time and reflect gratefully on my faith journey.

I considered how even before quarantine I had stopped inviting God to transform my life. My faith had become formulaic, and I hadn’t been asking where He wanted me to grow, but instead directing my own efforts. It was restricted to studying theology by whim, per articles friends passed along. As much as I love taking theology classes, socializing in various Catholic clubs, and trolling Catholic twitter, these do not constitute a flourishing spiritual life. Head and heart were miles apart. In Colorado, reparations began.

I had many questions about charismatic spirituality and didn’t feel attracted to it. But St. Augustine reminds us not to “be too proud to learn what has to be learned with the help of other people” (St. Augustine, Teaching Christianity).  While driving, hiking, and resting for meals I swallowed my pride and voiced my thoughts to interns and members of the community. I met some surprises. One sister, hailing from a Traditional Catholic Samoan home in New Zealand, expressed between steep stretches of trail that my wariness of charismatic practices was healthy. I had experienced how progressivism can ruin reverence and doctrine. My fear that charismatic worship tends toward distraction and heresy was not unfounded, she insisted.

What I had exactly wrong was my assumption that most people treat charismatic worship as a replacement for contemplative prayer or the sacraments. I assumed charismatic communities had no interest in, knowledge of, or appreciation for the traditions of the Church. This patient sister explained to me that, for her, charismatic prayer is like chocolate; it doesn’t serve for daily sustenance, but it gives her a delectable way to express her gratitude for who God is and what He does. She knows that not everyone feels enriched by it, and that’s okay. I was humbled when she asked me to trust the leaders of the community and lean into my uneasiness. The internal conflict merited my attention, she said, but allowing it to keep me from prayer wasn’t the answer. If I was so conflicted as they prayed in tongues or had praise and worship, I needed to take responsibility for my spiritual needs and go pray where I’d be quiet enough to hear God speak. He is not only to be found in the winds, or the earthquakes, or the fires—but in “gentle whisper[s]” (1 Kings 19:11-12). 

When I finally relaxed and prayed attentively, I was surprised to find that God had something even greater to teach me: You can have a relationship with the Holy Spirit without being charismatic, and I was using my discomfort with one way of worship to avoid the Third Person of the Trinity. I realized through the community’s thoughtfulness and patience with me that I had neglected a relationship with the Spirit because of my deep, recently identified aversion. I missed Him; I felt the absence. I didn’t know where to begin with this stranger, this Person.

The Holy Spirit wants to dispel darkness and illuminate our holiest desires. I had named this darkness and needed to ask the Spirit to come into it—into my heart. The heart is the Spirit’s specialty. When we have issues with our families, we often pray to the Father. When we wrestle with temptation, the Son. And the Third? Perhaps some think the Father too distant or the Son too familiar, but I think many of us agree that the Holy Spirit is the hardest Person to approach. 

I’m still learning about the Holy Spirit, as if He were a new acquaintance. I began by inviting Him into small things throughout the day, becoming comfortable with His name, and considering where He is working. He rewards our effort and consistency with familiarity. Continuing to depend on trustworthy guides—a spiritual director, a sister, a few close friends, members of the community I traveled with this summer—for difficult teachings and unpacking experiences checks my pride and keeps me moving onward. I’ve gained confidence in the Holy Spirit through encountering Him in the Scriptures. What I find there is all power and trustworthiness, and I feel ridiculous as I remember the box in which I had tried to keep Him closed.

When we experience tension in our spiritual lives, we need to listen to it. As His Body the Church, we need to constantly ask how we can unite all that has been sundered. This work begins inside the hearts of each of us, as we remember what we owe to one another: to make Him better known and loved in the world, because, in the end, our lives are not our own.

Notre Dame, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, pray for us!

Lizzie is a junior majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies and theology and minoring in Constitutional Studies. Her preferred method of fending off the dining hall wasps is fanning them about with her napkin. She’d be interesting in hearing how you manage at eself@nd.edu.