Reflection for the Day of Pentecost: The Holy Comforter

Though often referred to as the Holy Comforter, the Holy Spirit doesn’t seem like that much of a comfort to me, at least in the way we normally mean it.  Anything but.

Acts likens the Holy Spirit, not only to fire but to a violent wind.  “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.”  (Acts 2:2)  Not so comforting. 

I have two experiences of violent winds.  One comes from the fact that our apartment opens onto a driveway running east and west, which is lined by a tall apartment building on one side and a row of buildings on the other.  It creates a wind tunnel effect.  If you go outside and there is a good wind, it whips down the wind tunnel with ferocity.  If it is raining, snowing, or worst of all, sleeting, it qualifies in mind is violent.  Still, walking the dog necessitates braving

the elements. 

My other experience of violent winds was Hurricane Sandy.  I don’t know what I was thinking, but I walked across the Cathedral close where I live to have dinner with friends.  The wind, to be sure, was strong.  When I came out, though, a huge limb of an ancient oak tree, under which I had complacently walked a few hours earlier, had crashed to the ground.  That’s far beyond even the biting sting of sleet in the wind tunnel.  It wasn’t brave.  It was just stupid.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

All this is to say, if Acts is right and Holy Spirit is anything like a violent wind, there is not much comfort to be had in it except in the true sense of the world.  Our English word comfort comes to us, through French, from the Latin word confortare, which interestingly enough, is used in the Latin translation of the Bible, the Vulgate.  It means to strengthen much.  The Holy Spirit comforts us, not as we might associate with a mother comforting a hurt child to console her or him, but more like a coach, or maybe a drill sergeant, inspiring (another word meaning, after all, filled with spirit) a student or a trainee.  The Holy Comforter is, after all, as a violent wind.

Nelson Mandela put it this way: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”  That is holy comfort indeed.