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.

Amen.

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My Yoke is Easy, My Burden Light

People have become aware generally of my decision to return to Catholicism. I can say all have been supportive, or at least quiet. That is not to say all understand, and, well I understand that. I’m not sure I understand it well myself.

When I mentioned to my husband, known at A Feather Adrift, as the Contrarian, he started to speak, and then said, “never mind.” I encouraged him to continue, and when he wouldn’t I surmised his response:

“You were going to say, why not keep quiet, for in six months you may change you mind, . . .again. Is that about right?”

“Yeah,” he mumbled.

Another friend wished me well most sincerely but suggested she too didn’t understand.

What follows is my best attempt to explain, and well, as I said, understand myself.

I’ve been reading a lot of Tillich lately. He has a couple of books that are really collections of his sermons given in the late 40’s. Surprisingly, they speak as effectively today as then.

I read something in one that caught me. I cannot find it after spending some minutes searching, and think that it was more of an impression, one I created from a number of thoughts of his. Credit where credit is due, but I don’t want to blame  him either.

He was speaking I recall about religion and how it gets in the way of the message, and that that is what Jesus means about his yoke being easy and his burden light. He meant it in regards to a comparison of the onerous burden of the Law. No one could be obedient to the Law fully. It was an impossibility, but Jesus saw that it, as practiced in Second Temple Judea, was particularly so for the poor.

All the purity laws, all the rules, all were impossible for the average peasant to comply with. He was always “unclean” and rejected, although his Temple tax was always accepted.

From that, one might conclude that onerous religious ritual and dogma might be held in similar disdain, obscuring the “Way” as Jesus taught.

Leave it to me, to see something quite different. Again, I think it had something to do with something else Tillich said, about faith. In essence, when it became easy, then we were in trouble. We become complacent, sure we are right, no longer studying, no longer meditating, no longer moving on the path. We think in our arrogance that we have reached the end of the road. We are there.

I conflate the two, and find that when religion is easy for me, I become complacent. I start to become arrogant and sure of what is truth. And that is simply wrong. Augustine is a dear favorite of mine, mostly because he prayed to have his “concupiscence taken from him, but not quite yet.” I liked that bit of honesty, that humanness.

Anyway, Augustine is quoted generally as saying something along the lines of “whatever we think we have learned about God only adds to what we don’t know,” or words to that effect. I believe it. The more I learn, the more I suspect I’m wrong in other words, yet I also suspect I might be more right than some others. Meaning I guess that I increase in knowledge in minuscule amounts, ninety percent of “new learning” is probably wrong.

To be in a church that agrees with me, or gives me total license (more or less) to construct my own theology, allows me to do that and dust off my hands at my  creation, my God. My idol, the thing I worship as work of my own hands.

The Roman Catholic Church on the other hand, keeps me in severe tension. We are in some holy disagreements on a host of things. But, in humility, I know that I must learn as best I can the full force and reasoning of the Church, and then I must carefully examine all other evidence. Only then do I have a right to disagree. If my heart leads me against Mother Church on any issue, I remain in that tension, always seeking.

And in seeking, comes that minute new kernel of knowing I believe. And so the tension, for me, is essential. I am, without it, too prone to rest on my laurels.

In saying this, I want to make it most clear that others, who are happily ensconced with the Episcopal Church, or any other for that matter, are not wrong. That would be arrogant indeed. I mean quite something else.

I believe that we are utterly unique in our personal connection with God. We are meant to be, as I see it. God has created a perfectly perfect, yet supremely special one-of-a-kind way of union for each of us. And thus, it means that each path is unique.

Each of us is a different pattern of genes, personality, and life experiences. We, each of us, then, as I see it, must negotiate the world in a way different from each other.

My inability to stay honorably focused on truth without the crutch of “tension” need not, and no doubt is not everyone else’s. It is mine. I say no more.

If as Augustine suggests, I’m more wrong than right, well, I can but hope that some kernel of  new truth has emerged for me. And that kernel has led me to this place and time, and this decision.

Or as my husband suggests, six months from now? But for now, I feel content and at peace. That seems good enough now.

Sophia Wisdom

 

Sophia Wisdom

 

I have been giving much thought in the last few weeks to the question: Who can know the mind of God?

It is an important one to be sure for everyone at all times, but more so for me at this time of transition in my life.

How can I know God’s intentions, his plans, more, his desires for me? If I wish to follow, then this is critically important.

My life, to this point would suggest that I have discerned the Spirit poorly, flitting from Catholicism, the religious community, away, and then to the Episcopal Church and now turning back homeward.

But I wonder, does it really?

Today’s first reading poses the question more starkly perhaps than anywhere in the Hebrew Testament.

What human being indeed can know the intentions of God?
And who can comprehend the will of the Lord?
For the reasoning of mortals is inadequate,
our attitudes of mind unstable;
for a perishable body presses down the soul,
and this tent of clay weighs down the mind with its many cares.
It is hard enough to know what lies within our reach;
who, then, can discover what is in the heavens?
And who could ever have known your will, had you not given Wisdom
and sent your holy Spirit from above?
Thus have the paths of those on earth been straightened
and people have been taught what pleases you,
and have been saved, by Wisdom. (Wis. 9: 13-18)

These words of Solomon echo in my heart as well. How, how Lord can I understand what I am to do?

I am cautioned not to rely on reason. Paul and many prophets have said as much. We are to be fools for Christ, meaning that the way of the cross is in direct contradiction to right reason. Through utter humiliation, salvation and the right path lies. We are to turn the other cheek, repay evil with good, all unreasonable, yet true.

Does this mean that our minds are worthless?

I think not. I think those who wish to contain God in a book would like to think so. The fundamentalist makes fun of learning and education, pointing to all the passages that warn of intellectual knowing. They are desperate to understand God by simple reading of the text.

Yet, I think they are wrong. God would not give us fine minds if they were not meant to be used. We are to use all our powers of discernment in finding our way in the world. We are to work with our minds to create a world in which all are free, fed, clothed, housed, attended to, as needed.

But when we seek to understand who we are and who God is, we must suspend our rational mind, because God is simply bigger than we can grasp. He is the contradiction and the paradox. We approach him with metaphor as the writers of various Biblical books did.

And where does that leave me?

I can conclude, and sometimes I do, that I am poorly translating the Spirit’s lead. I am misunderstanding somehow. But perhaps I am merely going through my learning, correcting my errors.

I am not suggesting that the Spirit directly sets us up for pain and suffering as a means to teach us lessons. No, I do not believe in a meddling God such as that.

What I do believe is that when we get some notions that are wrong, if they will become teaching moments, the Spirit remains quiet, and lets us lead ourselves into the abyss. Always ready and willing to lead us out again, to be sure, but we learn by our own willful choice.

And what have I learned? Perhaps humility. I came to Catholicism with a serious believe that it was the best and the first Church. I never let go of that. Even in ecumenical settings where I professed a belief that God reaches to people in all manner of ways, I still clung arrogantly but quietly to the smug belief that I was the better Christian by faith.

Worshiping as a Protestant and seeing things from the other side, has done much to help me to break from that ugly belief. For indeed, I do not claim any Christian faith, and certainly no non-Christian faith better than another. Only better for me, me alone, with my peculiarities and personal quirks.

I am drawn back to Catholicism because, somehow it resonates more deeply in me than any other. Not because it is the best or first. For indeed I don’t believe I could prove that if I wished to.

For those who can’t figure out why I am leaving a perfectly wonderful tradition in the Anglican Church, I can only say, that it has nothing to do with them. It has everything to do with where I am called.

Unless of course, this is but another false path in my wandering journey. Then I will, with God’s grace, learn the lesson held out for me. Until then, I do my best, more humble now for sure, knowing that I don’t know, I only believe.

Somehow God assures, that is enough.

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