Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Gifts of The Spirit

I think the Holy Spirit is difficult to conceptualize in comparison to God the Father and Jesus. God and Jesus both offer us somewhat concrete images that have some resonance, even if those images are rooted more in imagination than reality. In common parlance, a spirit denotes the absence of form. We speak of the human spirit as distinct from the body. The Holy Spirit is described as a rush of wind, breath or a divided tongue of fire, whatever that looks like.

Since the Holy Spirit defies description of form or shape, perhaps we should try another direction. What does the Holy Spirit do? I am not advocating a reduction of the Spirit to function beyond relationship with God and Christ. I am suggesting we look to the tradition to point us in the direction of the work of the Spirit.

Our friends at Wickipedia offer a useful summary of the tradition:

The seven gifts are enumerated in Isaiah 11:2-3, and conforms to the Latin Vulgate[1], which takes the list from the Septuagint [2].
Here are the names of the seven gifts, as given[2] in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, along with a description of each gift, as defined[3] by St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica:
  • Wisdom - With the gift of wisdom, we see God at work in our lives and in the world. For the wise person, the wonders of nature, historical events, and the ups and downs of our lives take on deeper meaning. The matters of judgment about the truth, and being able to see the whole image of God. Lastly being able to see God in everyone and everything everywhere.
  • Understanding - With the gift of understanding, we comprehend how we need to live as a follower of Jesus Christ. A person with understanding is not confused by all the conflicting messages in our culture about the right way to live. The gift of understanding perfects a person's speculative reason in the apprehension of truth. It is the gift whereby self-evident principles are known, Aquinas writes.[4]
  • Counsel (right judgment) - With the gift of counsel/right judgment, we know the difference between right and wrong, and we choose to do what is right. A person with right judgment avoids sin and lives out the values taught by Jesus. The gift of truth that allows the person to respond prudently, and happily to believe our Christ the Lord
  • Fortitude (Courage) - With the gift of fortitude/courage, we overcome our fear and are willing to take risks as a follower of Jesus Christ. A person with courage is willing to stand up for what is right in the sight of God, even if it means accepting rejection, verbal abuse, or even physical harm and death. The gift of courage allows people the firmness of mind that is required both in doing good and in enduring evil, especially with regard to goods or evils that are difficult.
  • Knowledge - With the gift of knowledge, we understand the meaning of God's Revelation, especially as expressed in the life and words of Jesus Christ. A person with knowledge is always learning more about the scriptures and tradition. The gift of knowledge is more than an accumulation of facts.
  • Piety (Reverence) - With the gift of reverence, sometimes called piety, we have a deep sense of respect for God and the church. A person with reverence recognizes our total reliance on God and comes before God with humility, trust, and love. Piety is the gift whereby, at the Holy Spirit's instigation, we pay worship and duty to God as our Father, Aquinas writes.
  • Fear of the Lord (Wonder and Awe) - With the gift of fear of the Lord we are aware of the glory and majesty of God. A person with wonder and awe knows that God is the perfection of all we desire: perfect knowledge, perfect goodness, perfect power, and perfect love. This gift is described by Aquinas as a fear of separating oneself from God. He describes the gift as a "filial fear," like a child's fear of offending his father, rather than a "servile fear," that is, a fear of punishment. Also known as knowing God is all powerful. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 1:7) because it puts our mindset in its correct location with respect to God: we are the finite, dependent creatures, and He is the infinite, all-powerful Creator.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


I have made a serious commitment of late. A few weeks ago, I made my way to Island Books to purchase a new volume on the history of Christianity by Diarmaid MacCulloch. He is the author of a number of marvelous reads, especially his biography of Thomas Cranmer, an Archbishop of Canterbury, who continues to speak to us through The Book of Common Prayer. Reading MacCulloch is a commitment, not because it is difficult or uninteresting, quite the opposite, but because his books are expansive, read “long” here.

This book is titled Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. I have only begun, but relish stolen moments to imbibe MacCulloch’s careful prose and sweeping sense of the confluence of historical movements. We begin at 1000 BCE to examine how Greek and Roman culture intersect with Semitic thought to be the backdrop for Christianity. MacCulloch presents the essential threads and combines them in such a way, that the attentive reader grasps a sense of the significance of context and a given epistemology.

The subtitle is an optimistic wink. If we are Christians, we are caught within the current of our own time. We are inheritors of a tradition of Christian thought and praxis. What will the next thousand years look like?

NYT Review

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Good Questions

In the Diocese of Rhode Island, we are in the midst of a conscious exploration of our mission priorities. It is not so much an assessment of current efforts as an opportunity to reflect on personal experience. I think it will be interesting. There is a gathering at St. Columba’s at 6:30 on Wednesday, May 5th. I hope many will participate. If that is not possible, I offer the questions for consideration and inspiration.

-What were you doing in relation to Church work/service/ministry, when you felt most passionate and alive in the Spirit?

-What do we want to do together as RI Episcopalians?

-What do we/can we do together that we can’t do alone?

-Tell us your best ministry experience.