What of This Spirit?

holyspiritIn John’s Gospel, we have the beautiful final discourses. John places Jesus’ last words before his arrest, where they can be seen as prophesies and promises and become all the more powerful to us.

Jesus, among other things, promises that the Holy Spirit of God will come after he has left them:

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.

Surely this is not a new idea, for the Spirit of God appears as in the opening sentences of Genesis:

“In the beginning there was a formless void and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters … “

As Fr. Ron Rolheiser suggests, the Spirit is the very life force of the universe, breathing it into existence, and being the “glue” if you will, that animates and orchestrates it.

Jesus thus suggests that this Spirit of God, present since before the beginning, will be a personal presence in the lives of all who welcome it into their lives. The Spirit represents that personalized God who dwells intimately with His people.

The Father, so Jesus explains, sends His Spirit in Jesus’ name, as a sign to us that what we have learned from Jesus is in fact the Father’s will. We begin to see the interplay in this trinity of love, God, Redeemer, and Holy Spirit. All are one, one are all, each a part, yet not separate, each with its own duties, yet doing the will of all. This is mystery in its finest manifestation.

We can trust this Spirit as being of God, because Jesus has told us it can be trusted. It will teach us everything. It will remind us of what Jesus taught. Strange and opaque words are they not?

It is said by some that Vatican II showed the in-pouring of the Spirit in a most obvious way. A council that started in one direction, is captured by the Spirit, and sent on a new trajectory. Some are saying the same thing about the Pontificate of Francis.

The question becomes, will we open our minds and hearts to the working of the Spirit, confident that it can be trusted? As our dear friend Tim reminds us, much of the Hebrew Scriptures can be seen as a discourse on learning to trust this God that we have come to know. This becomes the ultimate in trust–“the spirit will teach you everything!”

But the ending statement is, I think most telling–“it will remind you of all that I have told you.”

This is the key to understanding I believe.

We are all of us, attempting to discern truth. We read the bible. We read learned and not so learned “experts”. We pray. We think. We ponder.

We all wish to believe that the Spirit guides our conclusions. We all wish to believe that we understand rightly. Some of us are very sure of that. Some of us are not at all sure. How can we be? The bible, (except for some few of us) remains a maddeningly enigmatic series of documents, difficult to define, difficult to unravel, seemingly contradictory in places and inexplicable in others. The more we study the more we realize that it is a collection of very different writings pointing in many different directions. As I said, it is only the most arrogant of persons who claims that it is obvious and clear.

Let us be honest. We are but mortals attempting to define that which is ineffable. We walk upon holy ground. We breath holy air. We are gifted with this life of short duration, a mere moment in the grand design. We are like an ant trying to discern the pattern in an area rug which we walk upon. We cannot see the expanse to make out the pattern.

Yet, we have this Spirit guiding us. And if we remember the words of Jesus, recorded in some fashion within the Gospels as they have come down to us–if we remember the ideas and the themes he brought to us, THEN these become the guide to how we might approach understanding “God’s Will”.

When our understanding is in alignment with what Jesus said, then we approach truth. When it does not, when we stretch and twist the Gospel stories to stand for things that can bear no relationship to Jesus’ world, or to the body of his teachings, then we are moving from truth and toward a self-centered non-truth that may  serve us but not the Gospel. If we must warp the Gospel to reach the place we want to go, we are most assuredly heading in the wrong direction.

We can learn “everything” from the Spirit when we use as our template the basic tenets of love, kindness, forgiveness, inclusiveness, justice, fairness, equality, patience, humility, and honesty. These are what the Master taught. We will act within the Spirit of God when we bring to every experience these qualities.

What Would Jesus Do?

The Spirit will tell you everything.



4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. aliceny
    May 05, 2013 @ 12:27:48

    Excellent, as usual, Sherry. Thank you.

    I read Mike Rivage-Seul’s post and commented. He hit the nail on the head with that one.

    One thing about the Holy Spirit of God is that it blows where it will. I have heard and read this said by so many sources over the years. I think that sometimes we Christians believe that God’s Spirit is only for US. Wrong! We cannot cage or in any limit God. Never.

    Among the many times that I need the guidance of the Holy Spirit is when I struggle with trying to understand and apply Scripture for my life. Often, the help doesn’t come immediately but it does come to me eventually — sometimes in very surprising ways and through unexpected persons I meet.
    I think that Jesus’ promise to us that He would not leave us orphans, that He would be with us always – even unto the end of the age – is probably the most hopeful, consoling statement in all of Scripture.

    As far as our new Pope Francis I is concerned, I am taking a wait and see attitude. I have such great hopes though. One thing that I think needs to be cleared up is the ‘truth’ about his administration in Argentina, specifically his action or inaction during the war between the campesinos and other citizens and the corrupt government there. Some of his fellow Jesuits were arrested and imprisoned during this time and the word is that he did not intervene. He is definitely not an Oscar Romero in that regard. And he came down hard against the Liberation Theologians (as have other popes).

    In any event — yes, we need another Vatican Council. Soon. The world has moved rapidly since 1965. There are so many more urgent moral and social issues that need to be addressed — in the open, in the ‘light of day’ so to speak.

    In an effort to give you an idea of where I am coming from in terms of my growing spirituality, I digress here and list a few of my favorite authors who have helped to shape that spirituality:

    I note that you reference Fr. Dan Horan’s blog, Dating God. I like it and read it often. He needs to be ‘seasoned’ a little. But that will come. He’s very young and newly ordained. His heart is pure, his head seems to be in the right place, and his energy boundless.

    Another blog that I’ve been reading for a few years is Fr. Richard Rohr OFM.
    When I was leading the parish Scripture study years ago I used his tapes and
    commentaries. Very helpful. He has gotten much better with age (now 70; a priest for 50 years).

    I miss Brennan Manning and hope that his beautiful, tortured soul has at last found peace in Abba’s arms.

    I enjoy Frederick Beuchner; Albert Nolan,; Thomas Keating; Gerry Straub’s blog; Dr. Emily Gibson’s blog; Rainer Maria-Rilke; Rumi; Abraham Heschel; Elizabeth Johnson,; Joan Chittister (most of the time); Carlo Carretto; Thomas Merton (a basic necessity in one’s library); John O’Donohue; Henri Nouwen;
    Mary Oliver, Denise Levertov; Jane Kenyon..to name but a few in my ever-expanding library.



    • Sherry
      May 06, 2013 @ 08:16:44

      Oh thanks for so much wisdom. I share you feelings about Francis. I don’t expect huge changes, but if he can at least be open to some fresh air, that would be a start. The continued persecution of the nuns concerns me a lot. They are in my mind the truest repositories of Jesus’ message in the Church today. You have certainly listed many of my favorite authors. A couple I am unaware of and will have to seek out. I’ll run a list of some of my favorite when I have a bit more time. The first blog you mentioned, Mike’s, is a real find isn’t it? I tend to lean more toward the exegetical end of things, but do read plenty of spiritual stuff as well. Brueggerman is wonderful, though I have no doubt miss-pelt his name. As I said, more later! Blessings.


  2. Tim
    May 05, 2013 @ 14:23:15

    Sherry, your thoughts here bring comfort to all of us who trust in a God of eternal compassion and grace. Early this week I was thinking about the verse that Alice mentions above, where Jesus compares the Holy Spirit to the wind. Not only are we unable to predict where it will blow, but we also have no control or indication of how will it blow. Sometimes it will be a gentle breeze that is balm to everyone’s soul. At other times, it will be perfectly still and this creates great anxiety for some who need constant movement and churning to “feel” their faith. And then sometimes (as in Pentecost) it’s like a hurricane that pitches our houses of faith into an uproar and rattles everyone inside them.

    Yet however the Spirit moves, it is right, for the Spirit knows what we can never know and does what is impossible for us. One thing is sure, just when we think we’ve got everything settled–that we’ve figured it all out–there will be a great gust of Spirit wind to interrupt our complacency. It can be startling to say the least. But the Spirit is never sweeter than when it’s disturbing and challenging us to live out the teachings of Christ in fuller, more effective ways!

    Thanks so much for these thoughts. I’m especially smitten with your terrific explanation of the “Trinity of love”. That will stay with me always–no doubt to be remembered every time I say, “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

    Blessings and much joy,


    • Sherry
      May 06, 2013 @ 08:22:05

      explaining the Trinity is a bit like trying to nail jello to the wall as they say isn’t it? It’s inexplicable truly but we do our best to make it analogous to things we can visualize in our minds. I guess we will understand it perfectly at the appropriate time! I too am always struck by the energy of the Spirit, and it’s ability to strike at just the right moment, unexpected, but so forceful that it cannot be denied. Certainly many believe that is what happened during Vatican II. We are so sorely in need of another as Alice suggests. Unfortunately JPII so stacked the numbers of conservative cardinals that it becomes difficult to imagine a breath of fresh air coming in. But the Spirit cannot be denied and we surely pray for that. Thanks as always for your comments. With Alice now joining, I feel so blessed with the wonderful commentary that you two add to my simple thoughts. Blessings my friend. Sherry !END


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