Monday, June 8, 2009

Pentecost and Beyond

The Spirit is the most difficult person of the Trinity to conceptualize. We speak of God as Father. He gets billing as a bearded, sage-like older gentleman. Jesus is of course the Son. He was a human being, so it is simply not that difficult to picture him as a first century Jew. He gets the sandals and the requisite Middle Eastern garb.

But the Spirit simply defies description. Sure, we have the violent wind language. What does wind look like? I don’t think I have ever seen wind. I have seen the effects of the wind, but never the wind itself. I have felt the wind, but not to feel its shape or to know its essence. Yet, I still know it is there.

The Holy Spirit must be something like wind. The Spirit is known by its impact, not by our ability to force it into a form.

I remember being present for a service that included the Veni Creator Spiritus. It is an 8th century hymn that invokes the presence of the Holy Spirit. The most typical setting is a call and response piece. The Bishop starts: Come Holy Ghost our souls inspire. The people respond: Enlighten with celestial fire. It goes on. It is a beautiful piece, even if it is very familiar.

However on this particular occasion, we sang another setting, a Tazie piece, named for the monastic community that is known for the style. The style is marked by its simplicity and repetition. The words go Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni Sancte Spiritus. The congregation sang to line over and over. A cantor began a variation on the line just out of time and pitch with the rest of us. It created this incredible and delightful interplay of sound and voice. The organ gently played in the background, swelling and then fading. The volume of our voices followed the lead of the organ. After what seemed like a long time, voices and organ faded to whispers.

The hair on the back of my neck was standing straight and tall. My flesh was marked by goose bumps. We invoked the presence of the Spirit, and the Spirit obliged. At the reception following, everyone I talked with shared that sense of the Spirit breaking in on us and making us aware of that fact.

The essence of this day is the coming of the Spirit. As Jesus speaks to the disciples in John, he makes it clear that he is leaving, but they will not be alone. The will have a powerful partner to support and guide them. They will be given words. They will be given hope. They will be given the animating force that permeates the essence of God.

Acts demonstrates the way the Spirit comes and makes itself known. It is a force of translation and transformation, breaking into the moment and revealing a deeper, richer, more complete picture of God’s relationship to the world. The Spirit breaks down the barriers of ethnicity, language and allegiance. The Holy Spirit unites those who will accept unity and executes God’s vision for a reconciled people bound together in love. The Spirit comes to accomplish the task.

There is a lot of talk about spiritual renewal in our time. It is usually couched in terms of an inner pursuit. It is often about quiet, inner peace. It is often very individualistic.

Individual devotion is a critical piece of the spiritual life. Believers need internal clarity and commitment.

But the Spirit we speak of this day is a supra-personal. This Spirit is working beyond individuals, and for the peace of the entire body of Christ.

This day we recognize the life-giving power of God calls, supports and sustains us even now. The Spirit of strength, discernment and blessing resides with us. The Spirit is able to break in on us even now and give us life we could never claim alone.

We should gather in expectation that the Spirit just might tear the fabric between heaven and earth. When we gather, we risk the presence and power of the Spirit. Veni Sancte Spiritus!

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