Thursday, June 9, 2011

Fill in the Blank

On this Pentecost Sunday--the day when we welcome the gift of the Holy Spirit to all people as Christ's enduring presence in this world--our scripture lessons are Numbers 11:24-30, 1 Corinthians 12:3-13, and Acts 2:1-21. An alternate story of the gift of the Spirit can be found in John 20:19-23. You may read all these passages here.

I am not usually a fill-in-the-blank sort of theologian; this may be part of the reason why I never made it through the Experiencing God study back when it was so popular a year ago, nor have I ever made it through a Beth Moore workbook. Today, however, I am going beyond my usual tendencies and offering a fill-in-the-blank question as food for thought. Ready? Complete the following sentence:

The Holy Spirit is _____________________.

Here's my theory about this blank: If we had begun the sentence "God is" or "Jesus is", though we would have gotten a diversity of answers, there would have been some standards that popped up consistently: "Good", "Our Creator", "Our Father", "Our Savior", "Lord," "The Son of God," "Love." An answer of some sort would likely have come to mind pretty quickly. It is my prediction, though, that it's entirely possible that each of us completed the sentence above differently, and that an answer was probably not immediate. This is because, for some reason, our knowledge of and ability to describe the Holy Spirit seems chronically more ambiguous; this was true even for the writers of the early church creeds that many traditions still recite as their confession of faith each week. The Apostles Creed has several clear things to say about God: "The Father, Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth." It has even more to say about Jesus: he is/was God's Son, our Lord, born to Mary, suffered, crucified, died, was buried, rose, and ascended, just to name a few. But all it says about the Holy Spirit (other than it was how Jesus was conceived) is this: "I believe in the Holy Spirit." Boom. That's it. No fleshing out, no filling in the blanks.

I think it's okay that we continue to be a bit confounded by the Holy Spirit, because it was confounding on the first day it made its full appearance as well. The crowds listening to the disciples could understand the different languages the Holy Spirit was leading the disciples to speak; they could not, however, reach a consensus on what was happening. "What does this mean?" is the poignant question many asked. "They are drunk" was the somewhat comical explanation others offered. Others scoffed. Others were amazed. Only one thing was for sure: according to The Message's wonderful translation of this text, "They couldn't for the life of them figure out what was going on."

"What does this mean?" This is Pentecost's enduring question to us. It's part of the reason why, though the day of Pentecost is one single Sunday, the Season of Pentecost in our worship lasts a full five to six months every year--we need that much time to even begin to approach that blank, to even begin to find a way to articulate this new and powerful presence of God among us and within us.

Be with us on Sunday as we welcome this Spirit again in all of its mysterious fullness, and be sure to wear red for the occasion (I have so much respect for whoever created that video).


Jeremy said...

I think Abby makes an excellent point about our expectations about our expectations and perceptions. I did, however, have an immediate answer to that fill in the blank - "mysterious." And when we think about God in general, we associate (as can be expected) with our experiences (which lean towards the tangible and more empirically observable). Which leads to God the Father (or Parent), Jesus, Creator, etc.

I suppose the question for me relates to how the Holy Spirit fits into our/my experience. If it is so mysterious - a separate (if welcome) influence and power and will in our lives - how can we describe it as part of God's nature? Interact with God via the Holy Spirit? Discern in honesty and love?

This is all far beyond Pentecost, I think, but is tied up with it as well. I'll look forward ot reading and thinking about it further.

Jeremy said...

Oh, and nevermind that you come off as crazy in our culture:

Yes, God, through the Holy Spirit, seem to be telling me to do xyz. I dreamed about the situation and I think I know what to do now.