Tracking Down the Holy Ghost: Reflections on Love and Longing
Flannery O’Connor once described the serious writer’s task as one of following lines of spiritual motion from the surface of life into that deep place where revelation occurs. “This is simply an attempt to track down the Holy Ghost through a tangle of human suffering and aspiration and idiocy. It is an attempt that should be pursued with gusto.” It seems to me this task belongs not only to the serious writer; tracking down the Holy Ghost is an ongoing work that belongs to us all.
As long as I can remember I have been following those elusive lines of spiritual motion. They have led me through my own tangle and into places I would never have imagined myself going: from the day of my baptism, through the various chapters of my life as a student, a parish priest, a husband and father, the Bishop of Chicago, until I found myself as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, and now moving on through a time of continuing discovery.
Though I spend my days as a teacher and preacher, and am thus presumably conversant with theology and the soul wisdom of many who have gone before, at heart I remain a seeker: a person under construction, tracking down the Holy Ghost, and with gusto! It has become ever clearer to me that all things have the potential to reveal the Divine and the mystery of love that lies at the heart of the universe, a mystery that has been variously named and understood across the centuries. For me, this mystery bears the name God.
“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you,” declared St. Augustine of Hippo many centuries ago. These words capture something of the longing that has been planted deep within us – a longing and a restlessness that, in my experience, finds its truest satisfaction when we are open to the sense that there is something more that draws us beyond ourselves.
Over the years I have sought to be, in the words of Anglican priest and poet George Herbert, a “tracker of God’s ways,” that is to follow the lines of motion through the seasons of my life, and to record some of what I have learned along the way. These pages are the fruit of my effort to gather up fragments from what I have learned about myself, about love and longing, about God and God’s ways with us. If you are drawn, as I have been, to follow lines of spiritual motion, perhaps the stories and reflections in these pages will be an encouragement. You may discover revelatory moments in your own life you have overlooked because they seem so ordinary and mundane or ill suited to our notions of God and how God ought to behave.
In earlier times books were intended to be read aloud. Each word was not only taken in by the eye but also deliberately pronounced. While speed-reading has its uses, it is not meant to replace the meditative practice that was once the norm. Baron Friedrich von Hügel, a wise spiritual guide to many of the last century, including the English mystic, Evelyn Underhill, used the image of a cow quietly and unhurriedly munching her way through a field to describe this practice of reading as meditation. I am sure it is not by accident that the ancients often used the verb ruminare, to ruminate, to describe such reflective reading. This book might be approached in that “chewing over” fashion. It is divided into stories and reflections of various lengths to suggest that you might stop and linger as suits you, allowing you to take in the words more deeply in relation to your own understanding and experience.
I offer these pages to fellow seekers in humble and grateful recognition of the many pilgrims who have sustained and strengthened me through their faithfulness, friendship and wise counsel. Without their continuing encouragement, and sometimes correction, I might well wander off the path.