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The Holy Spirit:  A Meditation for Pentecost / Part II
The Spirit in the Bible and in our Lives

According to the Bible, the Spirit is not something strange and peculiar. It is continually present, upholding us at every moment of our lives, whether we are aware of its presence or not. You don't need a magic formula, or special incantation to invoke the power of the Holy Spirit, for it surrounds us totally and completely. It is closer to us than the air we breathe. In the Bible, the Spirit is pictured like the wind, brooding and blowing over the waters of the great deep before the day when this earth came into being. And the spirit is pictured like the breath of life which God breathes into the lungs of Adam and Eve. God's Spirit is all encompassing, present to us always and everywhere. Unfortunately, the Spirit is not always that obvious. Sometimes we have difficulty feeling it at all.

Long ago Jesus characterized our state of mind when he said: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." All of us are poor in the spirit. All around us we see evidence of spiritual poverty and decay. From the confusion which seems to prevail in personal morality to the countless examples of corruption in public life, everywhere we see the signs of spiritual poverty and decay. And even in our churches there is often a sense of spiritual malaise.

A great Indian mystic tells the story of a child who grew up in the squalid streets of Calcutta. He was fifteen years old but had not ventured more than a block or two beyond the bleak neighborhood where he was born. There in the center of that great city, tall tenement apartments rose up on all sides so that, looking upwards, the best  that child could ever see was a narrow strip of blue sky, and perhaps just a hint of the white, fleecy clouds passing by. The light of the sun shone down into the shadows of that ghetto for only a few moments each day when the weather was clear. Otherwise it was mostly grey and depressing. So that's exactly the impression that young boy had of the world itself.

Occasionally, on an especially bright morning in the springtime, the smell of flowers from some distant field would find its way into that squalid place and the boy would wonder about that strange scent. But the sweet smell of grass and flowers did not seem real to the boy. What seemed real was the stench of that city, and the garbage, and the peeling paint, and the poverty of the people. The noise of the traffic, the rumble of cars and trucks, these the young boy could believe in, but as for that ribbon of blue sky, he soon ceased wondering about that, for clearly nothing that beautiful could be real. And as for the fresh air of springtime and the smell of flowers, they must merely be some illusion, some fantasy from a world of dreams.

The sad thing is, we are in exactly the same relationship to God as that boy was to the beauty of nature. The things that are near to us seem all too real. The things of life that are tangible, the familiar things seem real. And we do not recognize that the sky is all encompassing. We do not see that God surrounds us like the sky, that God upholds us like the earth below, that God fills us with life just as surely as the air we breathe. The beauty of God is available in every spark that lights the human imagination. The spirit is evident whenever people join together to advance the cause of justice and love. I believe that the spirit of God is active today in the peace movement or in the work of those who fight to save our environment, just as the spirit is alive in many Christian churches of China, Africa and many nations of the global South. The spirit of God is available to us in every moment of wonder and praise. It's only because we narrow the horizons of our imagination that God seems distant and far off. That's what it means to live in a thoroughly secular culture.

The wind and the fire of God's spirit are raging throughout this world to be sure, but we are not trained to keep our eyes and ears alert. Like that young boy of Calcutta, we have become so accustomed to the more depressing realities of daily life, that the very possibility that the Spirit of God could be with us now seems far too beautiful a thought to be true.

As a way of getting somewhat closer to the Spirit, may I suggest that you share in the following exercise. For just a few moments try to get real comfortable in your seat right there in front of your computer monitor. Now try to remember at least one moment of inspiration when you did feel especially close to God. Do you remember being inspired by a passage of music or a play? Perhaps you'll recall a powerful encounter with another person, or a moment of inspiration in nature. Almost all of us have had these brief encounters with the spirit of the living God, when a force unseen seems to reach out and touch us. When it seems there is something or someone present, even in moments of perfect solitude, and you can feel an electric energy run through your body.

One way of recovering a sense of spiritual presence is to let the Spirit speak to you through the medium of your own memory. Your dreams, your hopes, your visions of the future, the still small voice of conscience, all these can become channels through which the Spirit is available to us. The Spirit is no stranger in our midst; in fact, the Spirit is moving in a mysterious way through the room where you are sitting right now. Today the Spirit of God blows like the wind through the streets of your city; it gathers like a storm, brooding and blowing across the face of this whole earth.

O, God of wind and fire, pour down upon us an awareness of your Spirit, that we may live and move and have our being, not in the mould of this moment alone, but in the saving freedom of your Spirit.   Amen.

More about the Holy Spirit

More about Pentecost


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.