A rushing wind. Tongues of fire. Tongues of other peoples.
I’ve always had a fascination with spiritual gifts such as healing or prophecy or speaking in tongues. Paul names nine such gifts and seems to imply that “each” Christian is given some manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. So why is it that neither I nor anyone I know has one of these gifts in a way that obviously goes beyond nature? Why no tongues of fire?
It’s true that asking for supernatural manifestations has a distasteful, faithless, self-serving flavor in mature Christians. But I think there is more going on. It shows a misunderstanding of the Holy Spirit. It’s looking for Love in all the wrong places.
The Holy Spirit is the spirit of holiness. The spirit of love of God and neighbor. The greatest miracle, the most obvious evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit is the appearance of self-giving love in self-centered people, the worship of God and the communion of the saints.
Walter Hilton (d. 1396) advises that we stop seeking various gifts, that we restrain ourselves even from seeking virtues. We should seek only God’s greatest gift, namely, himself, and not stint:
Ask God for nothing, then, but this gift of love which is his Holy Spirit. For among all the gifts our Lord gives there is none so good, profitable, worthy, or excellent. There is no other gift of God in which he is both giver and gift except this gift of love, and this is the ground of its excellence. The gift of prophecy, the gift of miracle-working, the gift of great understanding and counsel, gifts of great fasting or penitential good deeds: all of these are great gifts of the Holy Spirit. But they are not the Holy Spirit himself. A reprobate and damnable person might have all of these gifts as readily as a chosen; therefore, good as they are they are not to be overmuch desired or excessively valued. The true gift of love is the Holy Spirit—God himself—and no one may receive him and remain in damnation, for it is this gift alone which redeems us, making us children of God, heirs to his heavenly heritage. . . .
Covet this love, then, above all things . . . as he bids us in the words of his prophet: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). You who are reformed in spiritual consciousness and have had your inner eye opened to a vision of spiritual things should leave off for awhile your flurry of visible efforts and take time to “see that I am God.” . . .
A soul that has a spiritual vision of Jesus does not make a big issue of striving for virtues. Such a person is not even especially busy about them, but sets all his efforts on preserving his beholding of Jesus. His object will be to hold his mind in stability, binding his love to that alone so that there is no falling away, forgetting all other impediments as much as possible. And when he is doing this, Jesus truly becomes master in the soul over sin, overshadowing the soul with his blessed presence. Then all other virtues are added naturally. Meanwhile the soul is so comforted and enkindled with the soft feeling of love that it has in its vision of Jesus that it experiences little outward distraction. In this manner Love slays sins generally, reforming the soul in a new experience and virtue.*
*Walter Hilton, Toward a Perfect Love, Portland, Oregon: Multnomah Press, 1985, pp.144-145.