A few years ago, the Community of Jesus published a little book, Sacred Seeing: Praying with the Frescoes in the Church of the Transfiguration. As we approached the New Year, it seemed like a good opportunity to share this simple guide to praying with the art here in the church, especially for those of you who aren’t able to come and see it for yourselves. This is the final meditation from the book. We hope that these have helped to enrich your prayer life in 2017!
Spend a few moments looking at the fresco image.
What are your first impressions of this fresco?
What particular elements capture your attention? Why?
Read the Scripture: Acts 2:1-13
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
Some thoughts and questions to ponder
How does this image speak to your own experience of the Holy Spirit?
The image itself is fairly serene, but the Acts of the Apostles records: a sound from heaven; a mighty wind filling the house; fire; speaking in tongues; and, enough noise to attract the people of Jerusalem. What do the images of wind and fire and words to say to you about the Holy Spirit?
There are 10 people and 10 tongues of fire pictured in the fresco. What do you make of the fact that, as the book of Acts tells us, “The fire was distributed and rested on each one of them”? (Acts 2:3)
Mary is seated at the center of this gathering. What is the artist saying through this placement? (See also Acts 1:14)
Also in the center is one disciple who is pastor is entirely different from everyone else’s. What might be happening here? And, if this is something about the variety of responses there can be to receiving the Holy Spirit, what might these responses be? What have your responses been?
This fresco is directly across from the image of the Epiphany (and the placement of all the frescoes in relationship with one another was done purposely). What relationship do you see between the Epiphany and Pentecost?
Veni Sancte Spiritus.
Come, Holy Spirit. You are the burning fire of the Triune God – ignite the embers of my heart with faith. You are the life-giving breath of the Father – fill the lungs of my soul with hope. You are the pure water of eternal life – drench the ground of my spirit with love. You are the winged dove of heaven – fly to me, and make your nest.
Mary and the disciples waited, Lord, just as you told them to do — “Stay, until you are closed with power from on high.” Now, it seems to be my time to wait. They were afraid, but they believed in you and in your promise – “I will not leave you desolate.” Now, it is time for me to believe. They praised you when they were filled with the Holy Spirit – “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.” Now, it is time for me to rejoice.
Lord, I thought I could do something about this. But once again I am face-to-face with another mountain. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” Lord, I believe you can do something about this.
A Word from the Tradition
Simple and himself, the Spirit is manifold in his mighty works. The whole of his being is present to each individual; the whole of his being is present everywhere. Though shared by many, he remains unchanged; his self giving is no loss to himself. Like the sunshine, which permeates all the atmosphere, spreading over land and sea, and yet is enjoyed by each person as though it were for him alone, so the Spirit pours forth his grace in full measure, sufficient for all, and yet is present as though exclusively to everyone who can receive him. To all creatures that share in him he gives a delight limited only by their own nature, not by his ability to give.
–Basil the Great, “On the Holy Spirit” (330–379)
Image: © Pentecost by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration