On the Holy Spirit
It has been noted that the role of the Holy Spirit is underdeveloped in our theology, that our sense of Trinity has often been collapsed to a Christo-monism. The Spirit is faceless, shadowy, anonymous, half-known, homeless, watered down, the poor relation, such is our heritage of language about the Spirit.1 No less a commentator than Kilian McDonnell has made the wry observation that "Anyone writing on pneumatology is hardly burdened by the past."2 What is most baffling about this historical forgetfulness is that what is being neglected is nothing less than the mystery of God's personal engagement with the world in its history of love and disaster.
What has been forgiven is nothing less than God's empowering presence active within the world in the beginning, throughout history and to the end, calling for the practice of life and freedom. Forgetting the Spirit is not ignoring a faceless, shadowy third hypostasis, but the mystery of God who is closer to us than we are to ourselves, The God of Psalm 139. The purpose of this conference is to reflect on the place of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
The Holy Spirit and Creation
The whole universe comes into being and remains in being through divine creative power, Creator Spiritus. This creative function relates the Spirit to the whole cosmos as well as to the human world, to communities as well as to individuals, to new inventions of the mind and spirit as well as to biological life. All creatures receive existence as a gift from the Spirit who is the Lord and giver of life. As we are well aware, creation is not a one-time event, an act that produces the world and then departs. Creator Spirit is a continuous energizer, an ongoing sustenance for the world.
If the Spirit were to withdraw from the world, everything would go back to nothing. Each morning the Spirit awakes the dawn. The Spirit initiates novelty, instigates change, transforms what is dead into new stretches of life.
Fertility is intimately related to her creative power, as is the attractiveness of sex. It is the Spirit who is ultimately playful, fascinating, pure and wise, luring human beings into the depths of love. As mover and encourager of what tends towards stasis, the Spirit inspires human creativity and joy in the struggle.
The Holy Spirit and Reconciliation
Wherever the gift of healing and liberation in however a partial manner reaches winterized or damaged earth or people crushed by war and injustice, or individual persons weary, harmed, sick or lost on life's journey, there the new creation in the Spirit is happening.
As the preface of Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation II prays: "In the midst of conflict and division, we know it is you who turns our minds to thoughts of peace. Your Spirit changes our hearts; enemies begin to speak to one another, those who were estranged join hands in friendship, and nations seek the way of peace together. Your Spirit is at work when understanding puts an end to strife, when hatred is quenched by mercy, and vengeance gives way to forgiveness."
The Holy Spirit is also a source of healing for us. In the Sequence for the Mass of Pentecost, we ask the Holy Spirit to heal our every wound. Physicians and health professionals can diagnose our symptoms and point us to the path of healing. Only the Spirit of love can reach down to the broken places of our heart and soul.
The parable of the Good Samaritan tells of someone who has been left for dead, badly beaten. The Samaritan has compassion on him and takes him to an inn where he can be cared for. Early Christian writers such as Irenaeus found in this story a symbol of the Lord giving us the Holy Spirit as the tender healer of every wound.3
Cyril of Jerusalem reflects on fire penetrating iron as a symbol of the Holy Spirit's gentle warmth, healing us from deep within our being. Fire makes iron glow so brightly that the iron itself seems to become fire.
If this is true with iron and fire, how much more can the Holy Spirit heal us with only the love that God can give.
The Holy Spirit and Conversion
As Christians and monastics we are committed to change, to allowing ourselves to be transformed into the image of the death and resurrection of Jesus. As much as we may want this to be over in a few seconds, in one big change, in fact, real change is most often the greater sum of a whole series of small changes. Because human behavior is so repetitive, we get lots of chances.
It is the Spirit who helps us to see what that little thing is and then gives us the energy to do it, to incorporate it into our lives, so that the new way becomes a habit. Behavioral change is one of these cases where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Behavioral change leads to conceptual change and vice-versa.
One writer has put it this way: "We ought not too readily to beg the Holy Spirit 'to make his dwelling with us' because this Spirit, when he enters and takes up his abode, not only brings his 'gifts,' but at the same time he is an eminently disturbing guest. . .
The Holy Spirit is at the same time the great and uncomfortable disturber of all personal, and especially of all ecclesiastical, self-assurance; he is the attack of God upon our apathy and self-sufficiency; he has no respect for entrenched institutions, for external observances if they have become an end in themselves. . .
The two 'elements' that appear in the Pentecost account As accompaniments and symbols of the Holy Spirit wind and fire - are the most fearsome of all the 'elements;' they leave nothing that they touch in the same place and the same condition. Hence, if a person prays, 'Come, Holy Spirit,' He must also be ready to pray, 'Come and disturb me where I ought to be disturbed.'" 4
The status of the Holy Spirit as divine was argued for centuries. In response to the Arians who denied the divinity of Christ, Eastern Church Fathers had argued, "If Christ is not God, we are not saved." In defending the divinity of the Spirit after the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., patristic writers argued, "If the Spirit is not God, we are not divinized." 5
Each of us has been baptized into the life of the Trinity, into Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Eastern Patristic writers especially stressed that in baptism the Holy Spirit gives us a new birth to the very life of God. Uniting us intimately with Christ as brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit is responsible for the total transformation of each one of us into beloved sons and daughters, heirs of the Father.
The living seal and anointing we receive at baptism is that of the Holy Spirit who has the same divine nature as the Father and the Son. In this brief description we can see how these important doctrinal and pastoral questions were worked out slowly but surely over time, based in the experience of the economy of salvation in the believing community.
The Holy Spirit and Renewal
It is happening when the earth is renewed in spring. Striking symbols of the greening power of the Spirit occur in spring with the ice thawing, the grass getting green, the trees blossoming.
The sheer regenerative power of the Spirit is no more aptly symbolized than in the regenerative power that is in the earth. The ecological crisis of our day makes it clear that the eco-systems on the planet have an enormous regenerative power. Responsible care of the earth's eco-systems is aligning ourselves with the renewing and life-giving power of the Spirit.
Brokenness and sin are everywhere. We see it in the violence in the world, in the violence which is handed on from one generation to the next, in the way in which those who are powerless are easily abused.
We see this brokenness in cycles of addictive behavior which operate so powerfully in human living. We see this brokenness in our dependence on so many material things in our lives. The Spirit is a source of renewing and empowering energy.
From Psalm 104, "you send forth your Spirit and you renew the face of the earth." The Spirit is the source of transforming energy among all creatures. The renewing power of the Spirit is present when political structures are renewed. For when social wrongdoing, dishonesty, or a lack of justice and fairness toward the poor are revealed, for they are, the Spirit is present in that work.
Given the despoiling and polluting of the earth by greedy, fearful, and sometimes unknowing human beings, and given the plight of so many millions of people plagued by war, domestic violence, by the fear of the knock at the door, and by circumstances that have made them refugees, Isaiah's (32:15-17) description of the action of the Spirit is relevant:
"The wilderness becomes a fruitful field and the fruitful field is deemed a forest. Then justice will dwell in the wilderness and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. And the effect of righteousness will be peace and the result of righteousness quiet and peace forever. My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings and in quiet resting places."
The Holy Spirit and Justice
Standing on the shoulders of Wisdom, chapter 8, in the midst of injustice and suffering, the Spirit who loves people teaches the way of justice and courage.
Like a midwife she works deftly with those in pain and struggles to bring about the new creation. Through the mediation of human practice she comes to wash what is unclean; pour water upon what is arid; heal what is hurt; make flexible what is rigid; thaw what is freezing; straighten out what is crooked and bent.
Whatever she moves, there awakens modest and even bold resistance to the "principalities and powers" that crush and oppress. The metaphor of paraclete or advocate/helper from John's gospel speaks about the Spirit.
In a courtroom drama of shifting scenes, the Spirit first acts as a defense attorney bearing witness to Jesus (John 15:26-27) Then her role shifts to that of a prosecuting attorney having a day in court against the powers of this world. Finally, the Spirit is imaged as a judge handing down the verdict that convicts the world of sin because it does not believe, which for John is always a matter of lack of loving one's neighbor.
Sometimes the Spirit calls forth individuals and communities to be prophets like John the Baptist As Leonardo Boff has written eloquently, "The Spirit appears as resistance, rising above all hatred, hoping against all hope. The Spirit is that little flicker of fire burning in the bottom of the woodpile. More rubbish is piled on, rain puts out the flame, winds blow the smoke away. But underneath everything a brand still burns on unquenchable The Spirit sustains the feeble breath of life in the empire of death." 6
The Holy Spirit and Prayer
When we don't know how to pray, it is the Spirit in us who cries out "Abba, Father." We pray frequently, under all kinds of circumstances, and there are times when our hearts are so bound up in the circumstances, that we don't know how to pray. It is precisely then that we really need to know that the Spirit is present within us and let that Spirit work.
Jaded, discouraged, hurt, exhausted, worried, people have need for comfort, healing, and a new zest for life. This is the way we are sometimes at prayer. The Spirit cries out from within us. The Spirit also creates a clean heart, a new spirit, a heart of flesh and compassion. It is the Spirit who calls words of prayer from our imaginations and memory, that we can apply in a new situation. We live in a graced universe because of the presence of the Spirit.