Come Holy Spirit,
And send out from Heaven
The beam of your light.
Archbishop Stephen Langton - d. 1228
By now I was utterly convinced of the reality of God and of the risen Christ but the part I continued to struggled with was the concept of the Holy Spirit. The fact that it used to be called the Holy Ghost and had only fairly recently been changed to Holy Spirit to make it seem more credible, cut no ice at all with me. Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit, both seemed redolent of haunted houses and s?ces and I wanted no part of such superstitious nonsense. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit seemed to have many references made to it in the New Testament and so I thought I ought to investigate it as far as I could and then put it to bed one way or another.
Our Lord does speak continually throughout each of the four Gospels, of the spirit alone giving life, that the flesh is of no avail, that we have to pray in the spirit, and that the spirit lights the world. In the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, we are told the Holy Spirit manifested itself as a wind and as tongues of fire, but there has to be much more to it even than those particular illustrations might suggest. Certainly, according to the narrative in the Book of Acts its presence transformed the lives of a bunch of very lonely, frightened and confused men and welded them into a powerful, vociferous, proactive force for the staggeringly successful propagation of the Gospel.
One way in which we can try to understand that which the word spirit signifies is by putting a simple, human interpretation on it such as pure energy, but even that description is really quite meaningless as we cannot completely grasp the true nature of pure energy. As it is impossible for us to accurately envisage or understand anything that is not comprised in some way of matter, the all?embracing, descriptive term, spirit, must suffice.
We know that due to entropy, as outlined in the second law of thermodynamics, the present universe has a finite life span; and yet we are promised eternal life. Eternity, by definition, is a long time that is not in any way represented by a colossal number of years It is not 1040 years (with the 40 being the number of noughts after the ten) and neither is it 106000 years. In fact, it would be 10infinity years which bring us right back to where we were before. Finite creatures are totally unable to understand that which lasts forever. When it was discovered that the universe was dying as an outcome of the uncompromising effect of the second law, many scientists, philosophers, and Christians became despondent at the prospect. Bertrand Russell wrote in his book, 'Why I am not a Christian:'
'All the effort of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system and the whole temple of man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins.'
Infinity is representative of a time-scale that is qualitatively different in the sense that it never comes to an end. How can this be for us, unless there is either a dimension that we will eventually inhabit that does not obey the known laws of physics, or our Lord is a liar or simply mistaken? As both of the latter propositions are, to me, totally inconceivable, I therefore believe Him absolutely when He tells me that life for eternity awaits those that take Him into themselves, and that eternity means just that. I have written elsewhere about the non-existence of either the past or the future and the fact that whilst time does exist, it is only relevant to a finite, memory-possessing consciousness such as ours. So it is likely that eternity is simply a place where linear time does not exist and therefore does not possess meaning, and those who inhabit eternity, will, therefore, have neither memories nor expectations but will simply 'be'. Each moment of eternity will be a fresh, not remembered experience. Presumably, as we are promised, we will be perfected and so there will be no need for either memory or expectation and we will be constantly fulfilled with the joys of a continuous Holy present. There will be no point to reminiscences, and no reason to examine either possibility or likelihood, as we will be too busy looking at the source from which they all come, or to which they have all gone. Russell appeared to believe that the afterlife that has been promised us does not inhabit a different dimension and that eternity depends for its existence on the continuation of the existing physical universe. The universe, as we see it, was created that we might come into existence and develop. If it had not been so gigantic it would not had lasted a sufficiently long time (12-20 billion years) for humankind to emerge.
If, as all Christians and many non-Christians believe, there is a spirit, then the corollary to that is, surely, that there is a dimension it inhabits. A spiritual dimension in fact. It then follows that God must have allowed contact between that dimension and this, otherwise the Holy Spirit would not now be amongst us. Presumably the only 'safe' contact between this world and that is through our prayers to God, via the Son of Man who is the intermediary between God and man. Our Lord certainly warns us against using other means of contact.
Slowly, I begin to sense how wrong it is to try to become completely spiritual while still in this world by, say, sitting atop a metaphorical, forty foot pole. I suspect that if we could achieve a form of total spiritual isolation in some strange way then whatever spirituality is contained in this shell of flesh and blood that we inhabit, would simply depart from our bodies. We would have ceased struggling and no longer be trying as Paul so eloquently phrased it, to win the race. The metamorphosis would therefore cease and we would die in our earthly bodies, just as a caterpillar would, that tried to behave like a butterfly before the time was ripe for it to do so. On the other hand, if we try to develop our love of, and nearness to God, through learning to love our brothers and sisters who are His children here on earth, then He will help us prepare for the transition that will take place at our death. Just as the only task of the caterpillar is to work towards becoming a butterfly by doing what is essential to enable the change to be made, so, our sole task, is to do what is necessary during our life, to enable us to don our costume of immortality when we die. The caterpillar has one advantage over human beings due to its developmental actions being instinctive. It will work tirelessly towards reaching its goal without the hindrance of a cognitive intellect. We, on the other hand have a reasoning intelligence which, when combined with an acute awareness of self, makes many of us mistakenly believe that the earthly body we inhabit is the only one. We then stop struggling and growing and sadly, like the caterpillar if it should cease its toil, we will die (in our sins) and never know the splendour and glory of the next stage that are there for the taking. All we need to do to emerge at death into the butterfly of spirituality is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and minds and souls, and to love others as ourselves. There is neither more nor less to it than that.
It is now time, this very hour, for us to embrace the power of the Holy Spirit and make a really determined effort to begin the metamorphosis from earthly caterpillar to spiritual butterfly in this life, by seeking to love God more and more, and by trying to love others as ourselves. I find it thought provoking in the extreme, how we are told in the New Testament, First Letter of John, that if we say we love God and yet hate our brothers and sisters we are liars. How indeed can we love our spiritual God unless we first learn to love our human brothers and sisters? Seemingly, loving our neighbour is a pre-requisite to loving God. A sort of training ground, if you like. We are told that as human beings we can never learn to love the God we cannot see unless we first learn to love the brother we can see. To love the, in many cases, difficult-to-love individual, means we have moved far along the road of learning to love, and the more we are able to love the more we embody and become Love, and the nearer we grow to Love itself. If you think about it for just a moment, it is obvious that to try to love God in splendid isolation is impossible. We can have only the vaguest notion of what or who He is, and so we would simply be loving our own idea of God, complete with all the hang-ups and prejudices we have draped over our image of Him; and that is a form of idolatry. But to keep on trying to make ourselves love our fellow human beings means that we are trying to embrace love itself, for its own sake, in a form we can more easily recognise. Then, and only then, can we truly begin to learn to love, Love itself, for we are then, and only then, becoming loveable in the truest sense of the word. In becoming loveable, we become a part of Love and thereby become a part of the very fabric of God. We can and must, in this life, begin the process of pulling on our spiritual clothes. The caterpillar does not suddenly grow its wings when it dies. It must begin its metamorphosis while it is still alive, and only then, if the process is complete, will it be able to shake off its old form and fly.
Christ said that those who have seen Him have also seen God. If we know the Son of Man then we know God. If we love the Son of Man then we love God. Christ also tells us that if we give a drink of water to the very least of our brethren then we do it to Him. This means that our brothers and sisters, equal Christ who equals God. Christ told us we are part of the vine, and why not? If God thought us worth losing His Son for, we must figure high in His thoughts. For most, if not all of us, He perhaps gives the unbearable commendation of loving us too much.
It is more and more becoming my understanding that the teachings of total orthodoxy and far-out Gnosticism are both equally wrong. Rather, as is so often the case, the truth lies somewhere between two opposites. My own particular concepts of God range, at different times, all the way from anthropomorphic images to theological and incorporeal abstractions. At one time I see Him as an old man with a beard and crown, sitting on a throne of gold. At others, I sense His presence as the aweful, concrete, reality; the true Alpha and Omega; He who was, before all worlds and universes, in whom past and future become the present; the self-existent being who is to us both Creator and Redeemer. Just as I cannot see light itself but only those things it illuminates and makes visible, perhaps I can only know God, when His divine light irradiates my mind. Ergo, I cannot see God, I can only truly know Him through His reflected glory; through Christ, the Incarnate Son of God. The living, acting God of Christian theology is, of course, the source of all my concepts. This makes them true although possibly distorted by my personal prejudices being loaded on them. Everything I do must come from God, but it is up to me to decide whether I perform my deeds like Saul or Paul. Without the input by God I would have no concepts at all. Somehow I seem, moth-like, to be moving around the periphery of the light; I seem to be advancing further in, only to discover that there is still far to go. Reality increasingly becomes the dream as the dream turns into reality. The yoke becomes both light and heavy at the same time as realisation begins to force open the door of understanding just a smidgen wider. It does not frighten me, and neither does it fascinate me, at least not within the real meaning of those words. I am simply going home; in God's good time I grant you, but I am going home. The spiritual longing which consumes me, tells me that just as a hungry man is evidence of his need for food, it (the yearning and longing) is evidence that I am meant for union with my Father. The Holy Spirit of God is not to me some intellectual concept. It is the Mind of God, the Will, the Heart of God who actively participates in our lives, showing concern without being coercive. Don't be too concerned that you are unable to place an accurate interpretation on what is the Holy Spirit. You have no idea why or how gravity works but you use its effects to help many aspects of your lives. Do the same with the power of the Holy Spirit. Harness its power through prayer and marvel at just how warm you get as you stand nearer to the Meridian Blaze.
The Holy Spirit is the voice of our Heavenly Father, counselling, guiding, cautioning, helping and finally calling us back to Him. Whatever it is I understand and feel about God, I now know that this knowledge and perception has been revealed to me by the Holy Spirit. Of that I have no doubt at all.
Did God make a mistake?
The Holy Spirit
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