On the Holy Spirit

I have for many years meditated on the meaning of Pentecost with a beautiful text by Karl Rahner. Here it is, in English translation, and — since the German language uses grammatical gender [i.e. does not associate a gender with seemingly gender-specific pronouns] — I have rendered this passage in the feminine for the Spirit.

… we have Your Holy Spirit.
She is the fulfillment of all the bottomless depths of our existence.
She is the life in us through which we have already overcome death.
She is the unbounded happiness,
which has dried up the very last streams of our tears,
even when their floodwaters had risen over all the lowlands of our experience. She is God dwelling in us,
the holiness of our heart, its secret rejoicing, its strength,
which is always wonderfully there,
even when our own strength fails and we are at our wits’ end.
She is in us, giving us faith and inward knowledge, although we are blind fools. For she is all-knowing and she is ours.
She is the hope in us,
which does not founder in any of the shipwrecks of our own despair.
She is the love in us, which loves us and which makes us love,
generously, exultantly in spite of our cold, small and narrow hearts.
She is the laughter which sounds softly behind our tears.
She is the confidence which bears us up,
the freedom, the winged happiness of our souls.
We are greater than we know.


  1. ‘Spiritus’ in Latin is masculine, and this carries over into the Romance languages and also the Germanic ones – der Geist; in English masculine pronouns have been the common use; but ‘pneuma’ in Greek is neuter, and ‘ruach’/’ruah’ in Semitic languages (Hebrew, Syrian, etc.) is feminine. I know that grammatical gender isn’t physical gender, and of course the Spirit is incorporeal. But there is a strong ancient tradition – eg in the Syrian church – of thinking of the Holy Spirit as feminine. Among theologians who have used feminine imagery for the Holy Spirit are Luther and Fr. Congar.

  2. The Iona Community song “Enemy of Apathy” which begins “She sits like a bird, brooding on the waters”, is a meditation on ruach from the dawn of creation to the present time. Well worth a look.

  3. I love this: “She is the hope in us, / which does not founder in any of the shipwrecks of our own despair.”

    That summarizes quite well my sense of the Spirit these days. Thank you!

  4. When THIS Holy Spirit floods our churches and overwhelms the hearts of our people, the world will indeed be transformed! Come Holy Spirit, Come!

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