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Formation Like the Dewfall

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Haec ergo dona, quaesumus, Spiritus tui rore sanctifica,”

“Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall.”

These words, prayed during Mass, at the time of the epiclesis – when the priest extends his hands invoking the Holy Spirit to consecrate the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, express the slow work of my formation.

“Like the dewfall” are words that consistently capture my attention during the Eucharistic prayer, and I find myself echoing the prayer over and over again in my head, long after they escape the priest’s mouth, as if trying to retain the image forever, connecting my growing awareness of God’s love to the slow formative work of the dewfall.

“Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall.”

 Dew is a mysterious substance, a film of moisture that appears when we wake to each new day, coating the ground we walk on. This coat of condensation is subtle, not overpowering, never forceful, yet it transforms the earth in the morning. The condensation necessary to form the dew can only come under certain conditions. Working to transform our hearts towards His love, the Holy Spirit, is often referred to as the Hand; the guiding invitation of God’s sacramental epiclesis.

I deeply connect to this prayer, “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall” because I am beginning to recognize how the Holy Spirit has come into my life, “like the dewfall” slowly and never forceful, guiding my mind and my heart towards God.

“Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall.”

The last night of my first Echo summer, a summer filled with new experiences of academic, spiritual, human, and communal formation, the director of the program told me, “the hardest times are often when the best formation happens.” At that moment I could only imagine the depth of meaning this statement holds, relying solely on my own past experiences to grasp what was meant by these words.

In 24 hours I would leave the safety of the known and enter the unknown, not aware of the personal formation that lay ahead; the joy and the pain of learning to let go of past expectations and learn to embrace the time to discover my own desires in union with God’s desires for me. At the conclusion of our conversation she sent me off with the book “With Open Hands” by Henri Nouwen, inviting me to open my own clenched fists to acknowledge the formation of the dewfall, the movement of the Spirit, comparing the gift of formation to Nouwen’s eloquent description of the fight to prayer: “When you are invited to pray, you are asked to open your tightly clenched fist and give up your last coin. But who wants to do that?

A first prayer, therefore, is often a painful prayer because you discover you don’t want to let go. You hold fast to what is familiar.” Opening my fists to formation is difficult, it is painful, it is joyful, it calls me closer to God in ways I never could have imagined. I have quickly discovered that the joyful reward easily gets overshadowed by the painful effect of admitting that I am not in control, the element of formation that asks me release the security of my limited knowledge and asks me to trust in the guiding hand of the Spirit.

“Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall.”

“You have called many before us

To take risks to respond to your call:

Abraham, who thought he was too old

Samuel, who did not know that the call came from You

Jeremiah, who thought he was too young

Ruth, who pledged faithfulness

Mary, who was eager to serve not knowing the cost”

~ Crystal Sullivan (the director of campus ministry at the University of Dayton)

The words of this prayer were written for me by one of the very few people whom I have entrusted with my deepest desires, my desire to respond authentically to God’s invitation to open my clenched fists; one of the first people to have shown me the dewfall, the hand of the Spirit, at work in my own life.

I would like to add one more line to this prayer, but first, I am obliged to explain the reasoning behind this bold request. Martin Buber, in his book titled “The Way of Man,” reflects on the importance of having witnesses to guide us, to be examples for how we are called to live our lives, but even the greatest witnesses have their limitations:

The great and holy deeds done by others are examples for us, since they show, in a concrete manner, what greatness and holiness is, but they are not models which we should copy. However small our achievements may be in comparison with those of our forefathers, they have their real value in that we bring them about in our own way and by our own efforts . . . it would only be misleading to study the achievements of another man and endeavour to equal him; for in so doing, a man would miss precisely what he and he alone is called upon to do.

I find myself identifying with these words in a profound way through my experiences. The dewfall, the awareness of the Spirit’s hand at work in my life, has been formed by witnesses, men and women whose lives have been testimonies of opening their own clenched fists to emulate the message of the Gospel. Their examples have opened my eyes to the joy that accompanies God permeating clenched fists. I am grateful to them for guiding me thus far, now I must discern how to continue my journey towards the Kingdom in my own unique way, responding yes to God’s invitation.

Knowing wholeheartedly that God’s invitation is freely given, I dare to pray for the courage to begin to open my clenched fists. With gratitude for standing on the shoulders of men and women who have carried me thus far, from the beginning of creation to the present day, I too have been called to take the risk to respond to God’s call: “Elizabeth, who like the slow formative work of the dewfall, is learning to open her clenched fists.”

“Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall.”

Tonight, as the earth cools and the moisture in the atmosphere transforms into condensation, forming the dew that will cover the ground, let us pray that God might send down the Spirit upon our hearts with the humility and gentleness of the dewfall.

Featured Image: Zita; CC-BY-2.0.

Elizabeth Clarke

Elizabeth Clarke graduated from the University of Dayton in 2016. She is a lay Marianist, a member of the Marianist family, committed to bringing Christ into the world as Mary did. She currently serves as an Echo 13 parish apprentice at Mary Queen Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.