Sunday, June 9, 2019
Readings: Acts 2: 1-11, Psalm 104: 1, 24-34, 1 Corinthians 12: 3-13, John 20: 19-23
Today we celebrate the Holy Spirit. But what is the Holy Spirit?
The Spirit is usually thought of as that which makes us alive, the spirit – or the breath- of life. The spirit of a person is that which makes them uniquely a living being.
The Spirit not visible, but is compared to the wind. The wind blows and we see the leaves move, the dust is animated and we can see it rise up from the ground and whirl like a dancer. The wind moves against us and we feel the cooling breeze in the summer and its icy fingers in the winter, making us shiver. Our hat blows off our head; the rain and snow come with the force of the wind and sting our face.
In the summer we can see waves of warmed air rising from our car. The Spirit is not visible, but the reaction of the metal moves the air, just as the leaves and dust were moved. Somehow we feel our vision has changed to allow us to see the presence of that which is not to be seen. The Spirit makes all our senses energized and alert.
We use the same word for alcoholic drinks – we call them spirits. We celebrate the life of Jesus with wine, not water. We feel a sudden and quick livening, we feel exhilaration when we bring the liquid into our mouth, when it flows down our throat and enters our blood stream. Warmth and a heightening of being tingle through our body. It changes our perceptions of our relationships and surroundings. Our tongues are freed from restraint. Little wonder that some people can find it addictive. Cocktail parties are proof that we long for relationships, for freedom, for that tingle that makes us feel alive. We add bubbles and mixers to give movement and increased excitement to our drink, longing to be released from the flatness we often experience in our daily lives.
We say that the Spirit dwells within us. What do we mean by that? Again, it is something we sense. I am awakened early in the morning to write this blog, but not by a child who comes to my bed to steal my sleep, looking for nurturing, whispering, “Mom, Mom, are you awake?” No, it is some other force which nurtures me, stirring me to wakefulness, and giving me words to share with you. It is a feeling of understanding that comes from stimulation in my brain and inmost being, not generated by my own intelligence, but by some force beyond me which knits words and thoughts together in images which transcends my abilities. It is a feeling of connection, of being part of that which is greater, which transcends my short time on earth, which is greater than learned knowledge, but deeper and more ancient.
Why have I written words for nearly 2 typed pages to describe something which is as elusive as the Spirit of God? Because The Spirit brings to my existence more than just breath, more than just a heart beat. It truly brings life, life which is created to give me a fullness which is more than the sum of my parts. Even modern medicine still struggles to define life. Is it brain waves; is it movement of air or blood through the body? Is it movement of muscles or response of nerves? Is someone alive because machines maintain certain processes which can be measured? These are difficult questions that bring intense debate. Still, the events of birth and death remain sacred to those who view them with reverence, events filled with the Spirit, that mysterious source of life, and whose absence brings spiritual or even physical death.
When we feel unable to grasp the enormity of an idea or event, we naturally try to break it down into parts. Instead of bluntly saying we cannot grasp the idea of God, we try to break down God into what seems like more easily understood parts. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we say.
We have said that so many times that it rolls off our tongue as if we have finished studying that Trinity, thank you very much, and have moved on to greater things. Yes, we nailed all that down in confirmation class, we drew overlapping circles, we have learned that the Son is God, the Spirit is God, the Father is God, but The Son is not the Father and the Spirit is not the Son, the Father is not the Spirit, and so on. It makes me dizzy!
It is a way of saying that our knowledge of God is incomplete, and that our vocabulary is inadequate for the job, that our minds are too small for the concept of God. We use labels that are familiar to make us sound smart, to make the concepts seem like things we know, but it is all a ruse. Perhaps it makes us feel intelligent, or in charge, or less stunned but what we don’t know. We have a fear of the unknown, of the powerful, of those things beyond us, so we compensate by easy formulas and false wisdom. But does it serve us well?
Wisdom is another of those elusive words in the Bible. In some scriptures, Wisdom is personified as a woman. I like that, that alone meets some needs of mine as a woman. Christianity somehow, in a patriarchal culture, became very male. “Father…son..” Part of the issues surrounding the devotion to Mary, the Blessed Virgin, is not only the desire for purity and intentional and sustainable innocence, but for some of the feminine, something maternal in our worship of Divinity. Perhaps some “Mother…daughter..” Some authors suggest the ability to give birth brings women great power, and men who find their strength only in might and force find that birth and maternity to be very threatening, something they must control.
I bring this up because there is a way to have knowledge of God beyond our intellectual games with words and theories which have been elevated to “Doctrine”. That way is Wisdom. Seek Wisdom, say the Scriptures. Wisdom is the way to understanding of that which seems beyond us. It is a more mystical path than those bound by scientific studies may seek. It is a path which urges us to be still, to stop talking and listen. To travel this path, words frozen in doctrine must be set aside, and the living warmth of the Spirit must indwell. It is a way where the power of Truth transcends physical might and control, and freedom is found for all. It is where the wind blows freely, and that which is eternal, God (by whatever name you use), is ever present and brings life in the fullest.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth. O, God, who has instructed the hearts of your faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may have a right judgment in all things and evermore rejoice in your consolations. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.