|Who is the Holy Spirit?|
KEVIN BATES SM
For the Branches Young Adults’ Program - June 2003
Well as I sat down to put these reflections together, I thought, maybe the go is to do a bit of scriptural research and come up with a whole bunch of images from the Bible......that would tell us something.....The Holy Spirit as teacher, comforter, reminder, paraclete and so on.
I could run off a list of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and do a bit of a spray on those - but you know about them already! They are rather familiar images to us all.
However, as I write this, I have just come from listening to a young mother whose 7-year-old boy suffers from sever eczema, she changes his sheets every day, vacuums his bed three times a week, spends weeks with him at the Children's Hospital, and spend hours helping heal the comments that other children make to him at school - she has a great dose of Holy Spirit.
Then just now I hear that the Governor General has finally been pressured into offering his resignation and the nation groans yet again under the weight of a spiritless leadership - ducking and weaving in order to justify its decisions, trying to sound highly moral, and distancing itself from its own decisions as much as possible.
Then there has been our national fear - alert but not alarmed we’ve been told to be - most of us are alarmed as well - there are certainly some good reasons to be alert and alarmed - but why do we have to take it out on those few thousand people who have been seeking asylum here these past few years. An electoral slogan - “Keep Australia in safe hands” was the iconic cry of the last Federal election - and we fell for it - and our spirit wilted further.
Our spirit as a nation is profoundly diminished at this time over this issue, and we are the poorer for that. Many people, who once breathed a proud Australian spirit, even as recently as the Sydney Olympics, now feel mightily ashamed that our spirit has so seriously diminished. The need for new and holy spirit has in my experience, never been more evident.
This past week we have celebrated - if that’s the word - National Sorry day - an attempt to reclaim a certain spirit around an issue that has conveniently been sidelined these past few years by weightier matters apparently. - and yet we remember with pride and joy the amazing spirit of those who walked the Harbour Bridge on a cold windy - spirited - day a couple of years’ ago.
Alert and alarmed - this could well describe the little group of disciples huddled in the Upper Room - until their spirits were revived - by a moment that sounded like a mighty wind and felt like fire - they were so captured by a moment of spirit that people thought they were mid-morning drunks. And all these years later - we are still remembering and re-telling their story.
Perhaps Holy Spirit is captured in this way - by allowing the wind of a mighty story or the fire of passion to take hold of us, and call us beyond respectable religious mediocrity - to a place that means that we even become social irritants and prophets, to a place where we actually become the people who change things rather than the people who simply maintain things.
There - there is another wonderful image for people with Holy Spirit - they are prophets - and if we reflect for a moment on the place of the prophet in the Scriptures, we find that all of them were passionate, nuisances, inconvenient story-tellers, and even more inconvenient story-livers - they were in-your-face stirrers, who called people to profound conversion - to a change of heart and life-style - that was often so confronting that we tossed them down wells, sent them away on ships hoping they would be swallowed by whales, and we even crucified a few of them too - but mostly they got over all that - such was their spirit!
Prophets always seemed to be able to read what was going on in their societies, then they formed a vision of what might be possible in a better-looking world. But wait there’s more! They then went on to articulate that vision, and then like a good front-row forward, they put their bodies on the line and gave themselves to the coming of that vision - pretty much in the way that Mary gave flesh to such a spirited Word that the whole of human history changed forever. They didn’t just talk about their dream - they lived it - gave flesh to is and lived with the consequences of their dreaming - so passionately it seems, that life was always the last word. Their spirit was a holy spirit - and sure evidence of God being at work among his people.
No such thing as being alert and alarmed for them!
Remember some stories from Archbishop Oscar Romero - “I will Rise again in the Salvadoran people”
Maybe they are a great clue to who the Holy Spirit really is........The old hymn “O breathe on me breath of God” - a favourite from my childhood and still a favourite provides another clue - the story of a spirited people is something that we breathe into each other and into our world, something we breathe in and catch from each other. It’s not something we try to convince each other about. Our conviction is in the breathing, living, song that is our life with each other. The very breath of God is ours to breathe, by God’s great grace - and our mission of course is to breathe that gift however and wherever we can, without fear, without self-righteousness, but rather humbly - knowing that others have the breath of the Spirit in them too. They may surprise us with their wisdom, their knowledge, their sense of awe and wonder, their reverence, their courage, and their profound humbleness before God.
Sometimes they may belong to our family, to a group in our church with whom we feel comfortable. But as often as not, they will breathe something of God’s Holy Spirit from another place, another point of view, another religious position - they may breathe a story heard in other languages and using other symbols - but nonetheless they will be breathing God’s Holy Spirit if we are listening. As St Peter proclaimed in one of our readings a week or so ago ‘ I have come to realise that God does not have favourites, and that in any nation, anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him’ - And again - St John says - “Anyone who loves, is born of God and knows God” - so anyone can carry this Spirit - it belongs to everyone really - none of us has a mortgage on it - none of us owns God - individually, as a group, as a church.......
So just maybe the Holy Spirit is found wherever love is found, wherever a passion for justice, for fun, for healing, for truth, for compassion, for homecoming - wherever these passions are allowed to have their say in the human project - and whenever being alert and alarmed becomes a thing of the past - for as we all know - love casts out all fear.
So who is the Holy Spirit? My suggestion is that we breathe a little and allow ourselves to taste, to hear, to touch and to smell the signs of Spirit that are among us. The Spirit calls us far beyond the need to be right, correct, perfect and complete. Rather the Spirit calls us ever more deeply into the mystery that is God - the Spirit opens the pores of God’s skin if you like, so that we can hear God breathing and moving among us. The Spirit calls us to a prayer that listens, waits, sings, runs and celebrates - not because we have found all the answers, but because we know that no matter what - we are held sacred - wounds and all - and nothing but nothing can come between us and the love the God made visible in Jesus and through the power and passion of his own wondrous Spirit.
Perhaps as we breathe a bit more easily, the Church will learn to relax a little more and know that we don’t always need to be in control, that we don’t always have to have the last word, that the world doesn’t have to fit in with us, but that rather we have to embrace the world and call forth conversion only when a deep communion of spirits has been accomplished.
As a Church we need to learn again how to listen more closely to the Spirit’s breath - as a Church we are surely on a sharp learning curve, and in this moment in our history - full of great energy, and even greater pain, the sounds of the Spirit will be the sounds that recreate, that re-form, that re-new - and please God, from time to time, we will all be taken for mid-morning drunks, just as those formerly timid apostles were, so many Pentecosts ago.
June 3 2003