Listening For The Spirit
In the Gospel of John Jesus told his followers before he was crucified, buried and raised from the dead that even though he would be gone from them that:
When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father--the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father--he will testify about me. - John 15:26This Sunday at my church we'll be celebrating that moment on the Day of Pentecost when, as outlined in the New Testament book of Acts, the promised Holy Spirit descended upon the followers of Jesus and the Church was essentially born.
From time to time I will get asked a very important question about the Day of Pentecost that is not that easy to answer:
"So, if the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, does that mean that the Spirit was not present before then?"
In other words, was the "Third Person" of the Trinity just dormant, hanging out, waiting, etc. until that moment to appear on the scene for the first time? Or are we missing something?
I've heard lots of different explanations to this, and not many of them are that helpful. You see, when you try to harmonize confusing aspects of Scripture with one another in hopes of keeping things coherent, nice and neat... you are going to have some holes.
I guess the way that I would answer that question would be "Yes, and no." Based on what we see throughout the entirety of the Bible, the Spirit has always been present.
I think the best way that we can imagine the Spirit of God is as the energy that exists between all things---a conduit, if you will, that creates connections between the Divine and Creation. Within that capacity, the Spirit, as the New Testament writers believed, serves as Connector, Helper, and Paraclete, a Greek word which means "Counselor."
To think that the work of the Spirit in that regard was not present in the world before Acts 2 is just not good theology. But the way the Spirit was revealed in began to work within people on that Day of Pentecost... now that was different.
Henri Nouwen describes what happened to the early followers of Jesus like this:
When the Spirit did come, everything changed because they saw and they understood. They realized that they had been a part of something special. Suddenly they could start living an interior life, a life in Christ. They might have traveled with Christ, but before the Spirit came they could not travel in Christ.Suddenly they began to see and experience the Spirit at work not just in the world around them (which I believe they began to do more clearly than ever), but also within them and through them.
And this is such good news for you and me because that same Spirit continues to do that good work within and through us as well.
If we are willing to open our eyes... if we are willing to surrender to the work of the Spirit within us... we will constantly find new ways to see and experience the risen Christ in the world.
What happens when we become more aware of the Spirit all around us, in us and through us is that we can't shut it off. Once we see it, we can't unsee it. And then we find those connections everywhere in Creation.
The poet Rumi captures this for me in this snippet of one his poems from long ago:
What was said to the rose that made it open
was said to me here in my chest.
So what is the Spirit saying to you in your chest today?
Perhaps it's a still small voice urging you to wake up and to finally see all of the miracles you have witnessed that you may have glossed over, or disregarded. Or maybe it's the realization that everything around you is humming with reverence, reverberating with glory and wonder.
Whatever it is that the Spirit is saying... listen to it, and be changed by it. Know that you are filled with that same Spirit, and let this knowledge give you more joy than you have ever felt.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.