May 16, 2012
The brooding Spirit
By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. *

By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. *

Despite the Lord’s post-Resurrection appearances, the disciples remained clueless as to how they should proclaim the good news.  How would they go out and tell the whole world about him when they were being hunted down like criminals?  Enclosed and huddled together in the Upper Room, their fears were well founded.   On their own, they could do nothing.

During those days and nights, the only reality holding them together was the Lord’s promise: I am with you always.  Always.  Whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself.  In fact, he will perform even greater works.  I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever, the Spirit of truth.  The Consoler-Spirit will teach you everything.  Everything.   So, they waited.

The Brooding Spirit: Two Examples from the Arts

The mystery of the Holy Spirit is utterly, totally, and completely beyond our comprehension. Images, metaphors, and analogies can only point to the mystery.  Still, faith seeks understanding.

Beginning in the Old Testament, the Creator Spirit gives life and energy to the world.  The Spirit comes to rest on the leaders of Israel–judges, kings, and prophets, for they are anointed to guide, inspire, and challenge God’s people. 
 Brood.  As a noun, the word can refer to a group of chickens produced or hatched at one time.  As a verb, to brood can mean: to sit on or hatch a bird, to warm and protect with one’s body, to hover over, to think or worry persistently or moodily, to ponder a decision, to dwell, mull over, or ‘to sit on’ an idea. 

The Brooding Spirit in J.S. Bach’s B Minor Mass

At the “Et incarnatus est” in the Credo of Bach’s B Minor Mass, the composer word-paints the action of the Holy Spirit, symbolized by a descending and repeated six-note pattern to hover over the text.  This text announces the Spirit’s action in Mary’s womb wherein the Word became flesh (et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria virgine.  At the words, et homo factus est (and he became man), the orchestra converges, ending the phrase in hushed silence.

The Brooding Spirit in “God’s Grandeur”

In his sonnet, “God’s Grandeur,” Gerard Manley Hopkins describes the spectacular, iridescent activity of the Holy Spirit.  The first line, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” conjures up in metaphor an electric force that reaches out over the whole of creation, over all the billions of galaxies of billions of stars, of which the earth is a small planet. The grandeur of God flames out like the shining of “shook foil” and spreads its fragrance like the “ooze of oil, crushed:” 

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Sadly, men and women have blighted the pristine beauty of the earth:

... Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; 
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

 Yet, nature is never spent, for through the life-giving freshness of the Holy Spirit “there lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” 

 Hopkins likens the Holy Spirit to a mother-bird that protects its young. The “Holy Ghost” bends down and broods over the world with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”  The world is an embryo to be completed and given rebirth through the brooding Spirit: 

And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

 Where is this rebirth by the Holy Spirit? Are we not instead re-living the terrifying “picture of Dorian Grey?”  Where, when, how do we see the Spirit at work in a culture that wears a horrific mask and finds relief only in illusions and passing ecstasies, in puerile behavior  and scandal?  And what of internecine conflict? How is the transformation of a troubled world possible without recognizing that the Holy Spirit is the answer to its distress?

God of Loveliness and Treasury of Blessings 

The Spirit is at work unceasingly like a potter molding the clay, like a composer pouring over his manuscript, like a chef kneading the dough, like a mother in childbirth, or like a mighty wind blowing life into dead bones.  The Holy Spirit, God’s own Self, knows everything, spreads its “bright wings,” and broods over a suffering world to console it.  Let not your heart be troubled, the Lord assures. The Comforter, the Spirit of Love will teach you everything. Everything.  So, we wait.

(To be continued.)

Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY, holds degrees in philosophy (Ph.L), musicology (Ph.D.), theology (M.A.), and liturgical studies (Ph.D). She has taught at all levels of Catholic education and writes with a particular focus on a theology of beauty and the sacred arts. Her e-mail address is [email protected].
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