On the House of the Soul
(Acts 2:1-11; 1Cor.12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn.20:19-23)
Houses and homes often appear in Scripture. St Paul speaks of the temporary tents we occupy here on earth (2Cor.5:1), and Jesus says it’s a wise man who builds his house on rock (Mt.7:24).
St Teresa of Avila also refers to houses or homes in her spiritual writings. She describes the soul as an interior castle with many rooms, and she speaks of her own spiritual life ‘becoming solid like a house’. [i]
In her book The House of the Soul (1930), the English mystic Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) continues this tradition. She says that the soul lives in a two-storey house. [ii]
In this two-storey house, the ground floor represents our ordinary physical lives and day-to-day concerns, while the upper floor represents our spiritual selves. Upstairs is where we’re invited to meet and spend time with God, and learn his deepest truths about ourselves.
But many people, Underhill says, only live downstairs and rarely or perhaps never visit their upper room. They don’t see the extraordinary views from their upstairs windows, and they miss out on the great joys stored up there.
And there are others, she says, who only live upstairs and refuse to go down below. They prefer to remain aloof, avoiding the practical and earthy side of human life.
But these two floors are connected; they work together and support each other. The upper rooms are entirely supported by the lower ones, and the lower rooms are protected from the elements by those above.
The ideal, she says, is for every mature soul to occupy their entire house. They’ll make the best use of both floors, by letting both the natural and the supernatural flow freely through their lives.
The truth is, you really can’t live a complete life by ignoring one floor of the house of your soul.
In today’s first reading, the disciples are once again hiding in their Upper Room, the same place they locked themselves in after Jesus’ death. They don’t know what to do with themselves. They’ve all tasted the mystery of Jesus, but they don’t know how to integrate that remarkable experience into their ordinary lives.
They’re stuck in the upper room of their souls and just don’t know how to live downstairs.
Then suddenly, a noise like a mighty wind fills the house.
Tongues of fire rest above each of the apostles, and they’re all filled with the Holy Spirit. Instantly, their lives are transformed and they start living their lives with energy and purpose.
Outside, it’s festival season as thousands of people crowd the streets of Jerusalem for the Feast of Shavuot (known as Pentecost in Greek). They’re celebrating both the end of the summer harvest, and God’s gift of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai.
This is the perfect time for the Apostles to start their new ministry. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they go down into the streets and they boldly tell everyone about Jesus Christ. Despite all the different languages, everyone in the crowd can understand them and 3,000 people become Christians that day.
The Christian Church is off to a great start. (This is why Pentecost is often called ‘the Church’s birthday’).
Jesus had promised his Apostles he would send them his Holy Spirit, and at Pentecost he does exactly that. They’re all filled with the gifts of the Spirit. [iii]
In his book, Meeting God in the Upper Room, Peter Vaghi reminds us that the original Upper Room (the Cenacle) is the place where many significant things happened: The Last Supper, the Washing of the Feet, the Institution of the Priesthood and the first Holy Eucharist. It’s also the place where the Church was born and Jesus healed Thomas’ doubts.
It’s a real place, Vaghi says, but it’s also so much more than a historical location. That’s because inside each of us is our own ‘upper room’ where we experience the living presence of God. Wherever we are, whenever we take the time to find and speak and listen to God, we can experience his life-giving, sacramental and transformative presence.
In 2014, Pope Francis said, ‘How much love and goodness has flowed from the Upper Room! How much charity has gone forth from here, like a river from its source, beginning as a stream and then expanding and becoming a great torrent. All the saints drew from this source…’ [iv]
In the house of our soul, each of us needs to spend time in our own personal upper room, discovering Jesus and receiving his Holy Spirit.
It’s the place where extraordinary things begin.
[ii] Evelyn Underhill, The House of the Soul. Methuen & Co, London. 1933. http://platonic-philosophy.org/files/Underhill%20-%20House%20of%20the%20Soul.pdf
[iii] Isaiah 11:2-3 lists seven gifts of the Spirit: wisdom, understanding, right judgement, courage, knowledge, reverence, and fear of the Lord (which really means wonder and awe).
[iv] Peter J Vaghi, Meeting God in the Upper Room. Servant, Franciscan Media, Cincinatti OH. 2017 (eBook).