Pentecost is often celebrated as the birthday of the church. We remember how the Holy Spirit came in power upon the apostles, how they preached in Jerusalem and how everyone heard them praising God in their mother-tongue. The story is recorded in Acts 2.
Pentecost, if you didn’t know, is so named because it’s the fiftieth day after Passover; it marks the festival of first fruits in the Jewish calendar (Deuteronomy 16:9-12), which is why there were so many Jews in Jerusalem.
For myself, I think one of the most important things about the Holy Spirit that I’ve come to reckon with, is that the Holy Spirit is a person.
It’s so easy to collapse the Holy Spirit out of the equation, for example by describing love (or God’s love) as a force, talking about ‘the power’ of God, or even saying that the Bible speaks to us. If we stop and think about it, we’re usually talking about the Holy Spirit. (So, for example, it’s not that the Bible speaks, but that the Holy Spirit speaks to us through our reading of the Bible.)
I also remember the time my husband made a very astute observation. He said that any theology that writes out the Holy Spirit has got to be wrong. At the time, he was talking about the so-called ‘complementarian doctrine of the Trinity’ (now thoroughly debunked by Kevin Giles) but ever since, I’ve noticed that the gospel is often presented with no mention of the Holy Spirit. And yes, this bothers me.
Anyway, complaint over.
The point is that the Holy Spirit is as much a person as the Father and the Son, even though much of the Spirit’s work is to point towards Jesus.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be exploring the fruits of the Spirit (yes, I know they’re technically all one fruit), but for today, I’m touching on the images we use for the Holy Spirit.
Paradoxically, the Holy Spirit is described as both fire (as per Acts 2) and water (as per the ‘living water’ Jesus talks about in John 4). Moreover, the Hebrew word for spirit, ‘ruach’, can also mean ‘breath’ or ‘wind’. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove when he was baptised.
I think the thing we find hardest to overcome with the Holy Spirit, is the apparent lack of visibility. This can in turn lead us to think that everything ‘spiritual’ is intangible – but that’s a mistake. The Spirit is very much concerned with our tangible existence and indeed manifests tangibly; what makes something ‘spiritual’ is not what it’s made of, but what it’s powered by.
And the good news is that the Spirit gives life to our mortal bodies, even while we await resurrection and the imperishable life. Thus, we can live with the Spirit now and do good works in the power of the Spirit, even in this day and age.
Air, fire, water, clay
What are you like
And how shall I describe you?
To whom shall I compare you?
You are the Lord of sound and song,
You hover upon the air
And give us breath.
You are the Lord of warmth and splendour,
You burn with majesty
And give us power.
You are the Lord of movement and dance,
You flow with grace
And give us refreshment.
You are the Lord of shape and sculpture,
You cannot be contained,
Yet reside within us.
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While we’re talking about the Holy Spirit, I posted on Light in Grey Places today. My favourite Disney movie is, of course, the animated 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast.