Pastoral Letter | July 18, 2018
Some have said that tremendous spiritual growth can happen in a hammock or a rocking chair. If this is true, then you and I can spend some valuable time this summer exploring the love and grace that we experience from the Holy Spirit. Let me begin by quoting Richard Rohr who said, “Have you been loved well by someone? So well that you are secure that person will receive you and will forgive your worst fault? That’s the kind of security the soul receives from God.” I believe in a forgiving and merciful God. I also believe that God
equips us with the spiritual power of love. Or as Hans Dench once wrote, “Love is a spiritual power.”
So many people are intimidated by the viewpoint that each of us is obligated to search out God and to try to understand our meaning and purpose in the context of creation and salvation. I prefer Brent Curtis and John Eldridge’s view on the matter. “As Simon Tugwell reminds, God is the one pursuing us; so long as we imagine that it is we who have to look for God, we must often lose heart. But it is the other way about; He is looking for us. And so we can afford to recognize that very often we are not looking for God; far from it, we are in full rebellion against him. And He knows that and has taken it into account. He has followed us into our own darkness; there, where we thought finally to escape him, we run straight into his arms. So we do not have to erect a false piety for ourselves, to give us the hope of salvation. Our hope is in his determination to save us, and he will not give in.”
I think that the church is comfortable talking about God the Father and about Jesus the Christ, but we tend to be a little uncomfortable talking about the Holy Spirit. Richard Rohr said it well when he stated, “Many have said before, the Holy Spirit is the rejected or forgotten member of the Holy Trinity. We don’t know how to dogmatize or control wind, water or doves alighting from the sky (see John 3:8). Such deliberate and daring metaphors for God should keep us rightly humble in all our knowing, predicting and explaining.”
I experience the Holy Spirit when reading scripture, or in the midst of the Eucharist. I’ve even experienced the movement of the Spirit while singing hymns, or praying privately. There are some times where I’m aware of the Spirit while on a long walk in the woods, or taking a stroll along the beach. Each of us experiences the Holy Spirit in unique ways. Charles Pinnock has a unique perspective on this matter when he writes, “What has been said about the church as the continuation of Jesus’ anointing and the Spirit as present in sacramental and charismatic ways all has to do with mission. God did not pour the Spirit out for us to exult in it as a private benefit. The purpose was (and is) to empower witnesses to God’s kingdom.”
I believe the Holy Spirit is present at baptism, confirmation, first communion, weddings and funerals. I have experienced the awesome power of the Spirit moving through a room without explanation. I think it’s a matter of welcoming the Spirit into every situation and anticipating that it will influence attitudes, personalities, difficult discussions and even bring comfort in the midst of crisis. The Spirit allows us to take risks, to try new things and to listen for the leading of the Spirit.
It’s difficult for us to understand that we cannot control the Holy Spirit. The best explanation comes from Charles Hummel, “Like the wind, the Spirit blows when and where and how long he wills to achieve God’s purpose.” I believe that we can experience the Holy Spirit as community and in worship, or even in committee meetings or parish council where we do the hard work of planning and programming and vision casting. We need to listen for the Spirit’s guidance to be compassionate with ourselves and each other. We need to be patient, persevering and constantly aware of the possibilities that the Holy Spirit may present us. Henry Nouwen said all of this much more effectively than I can when he wrote, “That great news we have received is that God is a compassionate God. In Jesus Christ the obedient servant, who did not cling to his divinity but emptied himself and became as we are, God has revealed the fullness of his compassion. He is Immanuel, God-with-us. The great call we have heard is to live a compassionate life. In the community formed in displacement and manifestations of God’s presence in this world. The great task we have been given is to walk the compassionate way. Through the discipline of patience, practiced in prayer and action, the life of discipleship becomes real and fruitful.”