Monday, December 20, 2010

The Sevenfold Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Monday, December 20, 2010 -- Week of 4 Advent, Year One
Lillian Trasher, Missionary in Egypt, 1961 (tr. from Dec. 19)
To read about our daily commemorations, go to our Holy Women, Holy Men blog:

Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p 938)
Psalms 61, 62 (morning)       112, 115 (evening)
Isaiah 11:1-9 
Revelation 20:1-12 
John 5:30-47

We read a famous passage from Isaiah today.  It comes from the time after the Babylonians had removed the last of the rulers from David's lineage, Zedekiah.  At the time, Zedekiah's nephew, who was also his predecessor, Jehoiachin was being held a prisoner in Babylon.  Isaiah imagines a time when either Jehoiachin or one of his children would return to rule -- "A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots." 

Isaiah's hope was unfulfilled.  A monarch from David's line would never again rule in Israel.  The vision and promises became part of a messianic hope.

The Church has adopted this passage from Isaiah as a description of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, given to God's children at baptism.  The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, right judgment (counsel), fortitude (might), knowledge, reverence/piety (fear of the Lord), wonder and awe (fear of the Lord).  In Isaiah 11:2-3a there are two references to "the fear of the Lord;" since the Greek translation Septuagint adds a word translated "piety" in the Latin Vulgate, the two references to "fear" are traditionally divided into piety and awe.

These are the gifts that the Church teaches are our natural inheritance from the Spirit.  We all have these gifts which have been planted in us by God's Holy Spirit.  Our access to these gifts is easy and natural, but our growth in them takes discipline and practice. 

Think of someone who has been given a natural gift for music -- someone who can hear pitch and rhythm.  Someone who can sing a melody and stay in tune.  The musical gift is a natural one, and singing may come easy.  But in order for that gift to grow and to be developed, it takes discipline and practice.  One must learn to read music if we are to do more than to sing by ear.  To be able to read music and play and instrument competently, we begin with scales, exercises and simple tunes.  Gradually we become more accomplished and can play more complicated and beautiful music.  Eventually, we might grow to where we can play beautiful music almost without conscious thought.

I had a friend in college who was a music major.  Charlie was doing his practice teaching as a conductor of a school band and orchestra.  He had rehearsed them to play a piano concerto and invited a professional pianist to play with the orchestra.  Two days before the concert, the soloist was in an accident and broke a bone, a wrist if I remember correctly.  Charlie was in a mess.  He called one of his teachers, Ray, who was a friend of mine at Ole Miss, an excellent pianist and composer.

I happened to come into Ray's studio when he was sight reading the music he was to play in concert the next night.  It was a piece he had never seen or played before.  I watched Ray turn the page, and play a series of tiny notes breathtakingly fast.  "How did you do that?" I asked him.  "Oh, it's not so hard," he said.  Then he showed me that the first note of this long series started "here," (he played it), and the last note (a long way away) was "here" (he played it).  "Then I saw this sharp" (he pointed at one of the notes somewhere in the first third of the series), "so I knew it was a" -- and then he said something about an augmented or diminished major or minor something, and Ray again whipped through the thirty or forty notes in a flash of fingers. 

I have some musical gifts.  I can't do that.  I haven't practiced.  Ray has. 

We all have the gifts of the Holy Spirit -- the gifts of wisdom, understanding, right judgment, fortitude, knowledge, reverence, and awe.  Those talents are placed in each of us by the Spirit of God.  God invites us to practice these natural gifts, until they become so developed in us that we become a virtuoso, so competent that we do not even have to think in order to exercise our gifts.  If we practice wonder and awe, we will more readily recognize wonderful and awesome things around us.  If we practice right judgment and fortitude, we become more competently virtuous and strong. 

So many of the spiritual disciplines that connect us with scripture and prayer are the practice exercises of the scales and notes of our spiritual competency, the spiritual music we are invited to rehearse.  We are invited to join the heavenly chorus of saints and angels who sing eternally before the divine, "Holy, holy, holy Lord God of hosts."  We've got the gift to join the chorus.  All we need is a little practice.



Audio podcast:  Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week.  Click the following link:
Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at -- Click for online Daily Office
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location -- --  Click for Divine Hours

Discussion Blog:  To comment on today's reflection or readings, go to, or click here for Lowell's blog find today's reading, click "comment" at the bottom of the reading, and post your thoughts.

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 11:36 AM, Blogger anglejax said...

The Church has adopted this passage from Isaiah as a description of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, given to God's children at baptism. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, right judgment (counsel), fortitude (might), knowledge, reverence/piety (fear of the Lord), wonder and awe (fear of the Lord).

Greetings Father Lowell,
It's me, Jack. I admit, due to time constraints, I haven't been able to read your blogs. Today, I am rediscovering the joy and priveledge it is to share in your insights. The above quote is from today's blog.

I have always sensed that these gifts mentioned above were deeply rooted in me. I have always had the desire to bring these gifts up before me, so that God's love can act through them, through me, touching everyone that I come in contact with in the *real world.*

You say to practice these gifts. I find this to be a bit overwhelming at times. Do you know of any specific exercises I can do that are simple,but effective? I am trying to find time to practice the centering prayer, and as of late, I'm finding how difficult it is to *return to God* when my mind wanders. It seems as though I spend the 20 - 30 minutes struggling just to keep the extra noise out, you know, my mind wonders over things like, What am I going to do about this, or that? etc... What do you suggest? Would you say that Centering prayer is a practice that can help me to develop the gifts mentioned above?

Thanks for your time and consideration,
Jack Douglas

At 6:53 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Great to hear from you, Jack.

Yes, Centering Prayer is a very good way to develop the Gifts of the Spirit.

My suggestion would be two-fold.

1. Don't try so hard. Don't struggle to keep the noise out or keep the mind from wandering. Thoughts happen. They keep on happening during Centering Prayer. Just let them go. When you find yourself attached to them, don't struggle -- very, gently return to your Sacred Word. As gently as a feather being place on a ball of cotton. As gently as a drop of dew forming on a blade of grass. Very gently return. The 4 R's -- Retain no thought. Resist no thought. React emotionally to no thought. Return ever-so-gently to the Sacred Word.

2. Cultivate a quiet, inward glance toward God; toward love. As you return to your Sacred Word, return to love. Simply be, in the arms of love.

I hope that helps, Jack.

Best to you,


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