The Spirit of God

A gannet in a typical dive

There is a theme that has intruded itself into the thoughts this week, unsought, but inevitable as the days have taken their course and the words have flown.  From Christina Rossetti’s prayer to the Holy Spirit on Monday; from the Annunciation to the expectation of the births of Jesus and John, to the  presence of God on the Holy Mountain.  I am poring over the thoughts and the interwoven references to the Spirit of Christ; to God who endues all things with life, and his Spirit that makes new and stirs love, as the breath that lifts the rustling leaves upon a tree.  We know not from whence it comes or whither it goes.

John F. Deane, the Achill Island poet, has a work translated into French in the latest issue of Agenda Poetry, the Anglo/French issue.  In it he speaks (on page 154) of, 

“the keen presence of the breath of life, the way the Sprit came whispering fire to the churches, the Spirit, more gannet perhaps than dove, the white-flash down-dive welcome and daunting.”

The sandwich tern of yesterday, mimicking the gannet’s dive, but somehow gentler, was floating in the air of the close in-shore.  But why does Deane see the sharp dive and clinical finish of the gannet as more like the Holy Spirit than the dove?  I imagine his answer would be, in being incisive, demanding, precise.

The gannet splits air and water and finds its mark through the turbulent waves and currents of the sea.  Deane sees all of this yet also the Christ at breakfast on the shore of Galilee, ready to open eyes to the challenge facing his closest followers, but with the gift of the resource of himself:

“I walked one clarifying day, the pebbled and billion-shelled shore of the lake where you knelt, Yeshua, at dawn, preparing fish […] while Israeli jets jarred the sky in their war-games, above you - gentle and all-suffering - still - the Christ.”

When Kierkegaard spoke of the permanence of love, he warned that it isn’t just the pin-prick moment of conscience that changes a person, but the continuing demand to the soul of what that change has begun: Moses from burning bush to Exodus, Mary mother of Jesus from the Annunciation to the Cross, Elizabeth’s gift of John, Christina Rossetti praying to the Spirit who “purges our dross”, John F. Deane “cassocked in darkness, surpliced in light”, and Kierkegaard who gives us the image of the flying arrow, causing a ripping through as it travels, not just at the point of impact:

“the arrow flies speedily through the air horizontally, but if at the same time it should bore into the earth, and continue to fly with the speed of an arrow - oh! what a demand.”

In these days of challenge to the world in which we live, and to the communities of which we are a part, and to the emotional state of the sick and the sacrificial, we may indeed seek and wish to be found by the Spirit whose presence is, in Deane’s words, both welcome and daunting, and recalling that,

“only Spirit keeps you exposed, open to the demands of word and Word till your being brims and overflows……” 

John Mann



(please see the blogs over the past three days, to link with the references)

Quotations are from the Poem By-The-Wind Sailor by John F. Deane, published in English and French in Agenda Vol 53 Nos. 1-3 Winter 2019/2020, and Kierkegaard’s Works of Love (1847) page 134.