Wind and Flame: Pentecost 2018

Pentecost: from the Chapter House paintings of D. Werburg Welch © Stanbrook Abbey, Used by permission.

Of all the images of the Holy Spirit, the one I like best is that of wind, breath, pneuma, ruach. We see its effects, we feel it, but we do not see the wind itself. With every breath we take, we draw it into ourselves; with every word we speak, we exhale it again. For those of us in the Western tradition, that connection between Word and Spirit is already a given, but how rarely do we take in its full implications! And fire, how often do we think about that? From the cosy crackling of logs in winter to the amazing spurts of flame and blazing lava-flows we see in Hawaii, fire and flame are still part of our world, still a challenge to our ideas of safety and control.

D. Werburg Welch’s chapter-house painting of the descent of the Holy Spirit has always fascinated me. Mary, the Mother of God, is wrapped in a flame-coloured garment and sits, as the hesychast sits, among the other disciples and is filled again with the indwelling Spirit. The rushing wind cannot be depicted, but we know it is there; and we know it will transform these anxious, frightened people. It will catapult Peter and the others out into the streets to proclaim the mirabilia Dei. It will transform the world. This morning may that same Spirit transform us, too.


7 thoughts on “Wind and Flame: Pentecost 2018”

  1. “striving after wind” or “a shepherding of wind.” “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is enigma and a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). “And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:17).
    I had the pleasure of hearing these words put into song in an ancient churchyard in Umbria.
    May the Holy Spirit rest on you all this Pentecost.

  2. Amen. It was wonderful and amazing to hear talk of this fire, the fire of love for others, in Bishop Curry’s breath-taking address in St George’s Chapel yesterday. Enjoy your Spirit Day today…

    • The Hebrew word ‘ruach’ means ‘wind’, ‘breath,’ or ‘spirit’. The corresponding Greek word is ‘pneuma’. The word’s first use in the Bible appears in the second verse: ‘The Spirit of God [Ruach Elohim] was hovering over the waters’ (Genesis 1.2). In Genesis 6.17 ruach is translated ‘breath of life.’ Genesis 8:1 uses ruach to describe the wind God sent over the earth to make the waters of the flood recede. Altogether, the word ‘ruach’ is found almost 400 times in the Old Testament.

  3. Thank you dear Sister Catherine for this piece and sight of the painting, which includes at least three females receiving the Holy Spirit.
    Hope Pentecost brings you better health this coming year. God bless and care for you. Peace and love be with you now and forever xx.

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