Godtalk: A Personal Pentecost


The Sea and the Sun with a profile of a woman

In his novel 'The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne', Brian Moore tells this story. 

Judith Hearne is a gifted woman, healthy, attractive, competent, comfortable financially, in good relationships with her family and friends. 

She is loved and respected.

There is one problem.  She is approaching midlife, is unmarried and without children.  She is conscious that her biological clock is running down.  Hence, without fully grasping the situation, Judith becomes desperate.  Everything in her life  -  her health, her job, her family and friends - begin to count for nothing in face of the fact that what she really wants, a husband and children, is denied her.

She becomes restless and in that unconsciously desperate state, she meets someone with whom she falls in love.  However, he is not interested in her romantically and is only pursuing her because he thinks she has money and that they might open a restaurant together.

One night, after a date, Judith takes the initiative.  She proposes marriage.  But he rejects her, telling her the truth of his intention.  That rejection is the final straw.  Judith hits the bottle, has a nervous breakdown and ends up in a church cursing God and becoming hysterical.  She is taken away to a hospital where she receives good care and eventually recovers.

The story has a redemptive ending.  Shortly before she is to be discharged from hospital, she receives a visit from the man who had previously rejected her.  He arrives with a dozen roses, telling her he has been wrong and proposing marriage.  Her response lays out what it means to have Pentecost happen to one's life.  She hands back the roses with words to this effect:  'Thanks, but no thanks.  I am not interested in marrying you, and this is why.

'When you are a little girl you imagine the perfect life you will have.  You will grow up to have a beautiful body, meet the perfect man, marry him, have wonderful children, live in a wonderful neighbour-hood, and have wonderful friends. But as you get older and that dream remains a dream you begin to revise it.  You scale down your expectations and begin to look for someone to marry who doesn't have to be so perfect, until you get to be like I was, unconsciously so desperate you would marry anyone.

Well, I learned something by losing myself and finding myself again.  I learned that if I receive the Spirit, it doesn't matter whether I am married or unmarried, I can be happy either way.  My happiness doesn't depend upon somebody outside of me, but upon being at peace with what's inside of me.'

Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit is given to each of us in a particular way for our own unique situation.   Pentecost is not just an event to set up the Church, nor a general outpouring of the Spirit given to everyone in exactly the same way.  Rather it is an event that is deeply personal for each of us.  For Judith Hearne this meant receiving the Spirit for someone who is approaching midlife without a husband and children - and this is a different spirit from that given to those who have a spouse and children.

The same is true for each of us.  We are meant to receive God's spirit so as to walk in charity, joy, peace, patience, goodness, fidelity, faith and self-control within the concrete life we are actually living. Gal 5.22

Thus, God's spirit is given to us in one way when we are lonely, rejected by a loved one, dissatisfied with our bodies, ashamed of some failure, inadequate before some task, dissatisfied with our marriage, or single and unable to find the right partner;  just as it is given in another way when we are young, healthy, satisfied with our bodies, happy with our marriages and friendships, and successful in our projects.

Pentecost means receiving God's spirit for the life we are actually living.  Our peace and happiness do not depend on always getting what we want or getting rid of what can't be got rid of, but on that personal Pentecost.

Peter Knott  SJ