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The Holy Spirit:  A Meditation for Pentecost / Part I
When the Spirit of God takes the Church, the World and our own lives by storm

Pentecost. This is the day when the Spirit of God took the church like a storm. In ancient Jerusalem the disciples gathered to celebrate the feast of weeks. It was a holiday much like our own Thanksgiving. This was a day of joy, a time to remember how God set the rainbow in the skies as the sign of a new covenant, never again would the earth be destroyed by flood. But on this particular day the disciples had difficulty giving thanks. The risen Christ had appeared to them, but then had vanished, and they were left wondering ... what did he mean when he said that the spirit would be upon them, that God's Spirit would guide them form that day forward?

This unseen spirit may have seemed to them a pale shadow of the actual human being they had known and loved. As the disciples gathered in the upper room to celebrate the feast of weeks, they were filled with uncertainty and doubt. But then there was a sound like the rush of a mighty wind -- it seemed that the house had been enveloped by a terrible storm. And the wind came blowing through the open doors and windows. It was a fierce and terrifying thing, the kind of thing that makes you think that God has revoked the promise never to destroy the earth. But the wind was followed by something still more mysterious. "There appeared to them tongues of fire ..." A mysterious light filled that house and settled upon the heads of each disciple. The sense of God's presence was overpowering.

The disciples were stunned. It was one of those life changing experiences. From that moment forward, their faith was so evident that when they went out into the streets, travelers from around the world immediately recognized there was something contagious about their faith. Pentecost Sunday is the day above all days when we celebrate the presence of God's spirit in our lives. But how can we celebrate that which we do not experience? Can we say that God's Spirit is so evident in our lives that people recognize it instantly?

How was it for you this morning? Did the light of morning seem to convey the mystery of God's presence? Did the wind blowing gently through the trees seem to communicate the power of God? Well, if you are anything like me, you didn't bound out of bed filled with an overpowering sense that God's spirit was with you. If you're anything like me you opened your eyes cautiously and pulled yourself reluctantly out of bed. You brushed your teeth wondering whether you could get up enough steam to face another cloudy day. You needed that cup of coffee to get you on your way.

Normally we think ourselves lucky to survive the round of yet another day. Seldom do we actually consider that this may be the morning when God's spirit takes possession of us like a storm. Our hopes and expectations are much more mundane. As a theologian once put it, "the bird of a cheerful breakfast in bed is worth more than a couple of Pentecosts in the bush."

Clearly the Holy Spirit suffers a credibility gap of fatal proportions. Especially when you refer to the Spirit by that other name, the Holy Ghost. Today we are better acquainted with the Ghost Busters than the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost. ... that very word seems to conjure up images from a world gone by, an antique world filled with strange, other worldly beings: demons, devils, spirits good and evil, ghosts and goblins, creatures belonging to the realm of myth and superstition. 

The other night on television I saw a movie about Houdini, the great magician. Though he was internationally known as a magician and escape artist, Houdini devoted much of his life exposing frauds who presided at sťances and claimed to be in touch with the spirit world. An expert at illusion himself, Houdini knew that some people want to believe in the spirits so badly that they become easy victims of charlatans and con-artists. Even today people confuse the Holy Spirit with that kind of spiritualism. The assumption is that if some specially gifted spiritual leader will intone the right words and put us in the right mood, somehow the spirit will suddenly appear. And so worship resembles a sťance in which people try to coax the spirit into action. People expect some special or dramatic evidence of the spirit's power. Like faith healing, or speaking in tongues, or people fainting in the isles of the sanctuary.  

As a Presbyterian, I have difficulty understanding all of this. Yet, like everyone, I could benefit from a greater degree of real emotion and feeling in worship. I would like to see an infusion of vitality, enthusiasm, and spontaneity in the worship of many of the churches I visit.

And in our daily lives, wouldn't it be great if we could replace the drudgery and the routine with a mystical awareness of God's presence? Wouldn't it be great to have a sense of wonder, awe and praise on an average Monday morning? To that end, it might be helpful to consider what the scriptures tell us about the Holy Spirit.

Continued:  The Holy Spirit as understood within the pages of the Bible --->

Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and author of Faith, Science and the Future, published in 1994 by CrossCurrents Press. He is also the author of God and Science (John Knox / Westminster, 1986) which he is now rewriting to incorporate more recent developments in the conversation taking place between scientists and theologians. He has also written widely for such publications as The New York Times, The Nation, Commonweal, The Christian Century and others.

For further information about Charles Henderson.