We know him from religious art – he is always shown as a dove. We know him from the catechism and from the New Testament story of his descent upon the disciples. He came upon them as fire that did not burn, as wind that did not destroy.
Filled with his power, they ran out onto the streets of Jerusalem to proclaim Jesus as Saviour. Gone were their fear and sadness, gone were their hesitations, gone were all doubts.
We also know that he is the Third Person of the One God and a living bond of love between the two. We try to understand that mystery and we fail. We attempt to "capture" the Holy Spirit in prayer, but he comes and goes at his will and not ours.
The Pentecosts of my youth were visually marked by fresh, delicate greenery of the Polish spring. Churches and homes were decorated with branches of birches and long, scented stalks of reeds.
Indeed, the earth was renewed. Newness of nature was in tune with the renewal of spirit. "Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love." Prayer on those days was easy and strong and my heart danced.
Charismatic movements have abounded (as they still do) in Poland since the early '60s and gave many of us, the young of that troubled time, the first and best religious formation.
Most Polish priestly and religious vocations grew within the charismatic Oasis movement. The few meetings I attended gave me a wonderful experience of sweetness and the power of the Spirit, but I met the movement too late in life. As I embraced the usual multiple role of a wife-mother-professional, I drifted towards private prayer and self-study of theology.
''A tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.'
Over time, I become also "too serious" for such external expressions as joyous hand-clapping and dancing, simple prayers said aloud and testimonies of my internal encounters with God. Pride, pride, pride.
How is it that we never notice that we are becoming the biblical "dry bones," that day by day, bit by bit, we lose the childlike faith of youth? The hasty life, the growing greed, inordinate ambitions, Confessions on the run, prayer on the run, even Mass on the run – all these gradually strip us of the "sinews and flesh" of faith.
Then comes a major crisis in life, be it the death of a parent, a serious illness, or a grave personal sin and here we are, naked, defenceless and afraid: "Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, and we are cut off."
Despite all, we suffer and sometimes tragic circumstances are our great chance, a gift of God. All pretense of deep faith, all illusion of our commitment to God and the Church are revealed.
We find out that we are not knights of God; we are a pile of dry bones who cannot even move from place to place. We are forced to admit that we have very little faith, that our commitment to the Church, despite our pious acts and words, is shallow or simply nil and that in order to survive spiritually we need to beg God to save us, to make us whole again, to give us his Spirit.
This is how the disciples must have felt after the death of Jesus and, later on, after his Ascension. They spent weeks begging for the Spirit, the Mother of Jesus with them.
The Spirit will come to us too, if we ask patiently, simply, with trust and with Mary at our side. God does not make vain promises and he said, "O my people! I will put my Spirit in you that you may live."
We must not be resigned to our status as "dry bones." Depressions, suicides, demands for euthanasia, excessive fear of death – all have roots in the belief that "all is lost" and in the lack of prayer. On the other hand, is anything lost as long as we – the Church in heaven and on earth – pray?
What do we know about the last moments of human life and the action of God's boundless mercy? Do not we have our Mother Mary who prays for us incessantly? Has the Church ever abandoned any of its children? Isn't the Holy Spirit helping us, the sinners, pray?
Prophesy to the Spirit, prophesy, son of man, and say to the Spirit: Thus says the Lord God: From the four winds come, O Spirit, and breathe into these slain that they may come to life.
In God's plans, "the slain" will come to life. The broken will be healed, the soiled will be purified, the weeping will laugh, the fearful will be full of courage, the simple minded will be full of wisdom, the dry-hearted full of love – all will be well. There is nothing to be afraid of – but there is a lot to pray for.
This is the message of Pentecost.