He got out of the car and stood on the curb. His wife linked her arm in his, and they walked towards the steps. A brief pause, then they climbed the seven steps together. Another brief pause. They moved forward together. Ahead the path took a 90 degree turn to the left. Reaching the bend she drew his arm ever so slightly towards her. Together they wheeled left and continued on.
Reaching the steps leading up to the presbytery verandah she gave a slight downward tug followed by the lightest lift of his elbow. Both climbed together the two concrete steps on to the wooden verandah. Again, a slight pressure of her hand on his arm. They turned to the right and walked to where I awaited them. Then, it dawned on me. My guest, Professor Moag, distinguished linguist and expert on Hindi language, was blind.
As I guided them into the sitting room and prepared coffee for them I refl ected on the exquisite delicacy of their partnership. She did not command or even speak. He was completely attentive to her touch. Neither one hurried. Everything was done together, almost as one. He was making himself available. She was his essential guide.
I have forgotten now what information I received from the professor that evening, but the lesson of his partnership with his wife remains.
A few years later I found myself in a remote Fijian village, not yet accessible by road. It was Pentecost, feast of the Holy Spirit, birthday of the Church. Such a rich treasure house of images from which to draw for a homily! Images of tongues of fi re, a mighty wind, many languages, the startling proclamation of a murdered prophet alive again.
Conscious of being a failed charismatic myself, without experience of the gift of tongues or prophecy, I struggled with how to explain to the villagers the infl uence of the Holy Spirit on our lives. Then I remembered the professor and his wife.
I recounted the story. We Christians are the professor. We have an invitation, a request for our service but are blind to the way. Many obstacles lie before us. We fear falling. It seems safer to stay where we are, to do nothing. But the appeal is persistent. And we have a partner to guide us.
The Spirit won’t command or demand, won’t embarrass or force us. Her touch is gentle and light. We must give our complete attention, knowing that without her direction we will not reach our destination. Walking together as one, our partnership with the Spirit is fruitful. It leads us where we should go, to do what we are invited to do.
Eighteen years later, I made a return visit to this village. Chatting with Waisea, the catechist, I was startled when he reminded me of my Pentecost homily so many years previously. How did he remember it?
It seems that he and his wife, Ana, were struck by the image of the Spirit as the gentle partner of an attentive disciple. Ana wrote a poem in the Fijian language and Waisea put music to it. And so, a new song was born.
They have sung this hymn regularly since then at their charismatic prayer meetings. They continue to derive consolation and strength from the image, lovingly communicated. I asked to hear the song, and they kindly obliged. A rough translation of two of the Fijian verses would be:
Come walk beside me, Holy Spirit of the Lord.
The way is dark and I have gone astray. My sight is blind; I pray you, day by day Come to my help, have mercy on me, Lord. I felt a ray of light come pierce the gloom of night,
A strong and loving arm to guide me on my way.
The Spirit, source of love, is calling gently as I sway,
Fear not, I am the way, the truth and only Lord of life.
Many signs of the mystery of life flit around us, if we only have the sensitivity to notice and the feeling to be captured by them.