The Holy Spirit: Who exactly is it?
“The wind blows wherever it pleases,” says Jesus. “You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
Jesus speaks of the Spirit has something transparent but something also as something that is experienced.
The Spirit is transparent like the wind or like a breath. There are the two images of the Spirit, in fact, with which we are presented at the Festival of Pentecost: a forceful wind which shook the house, fire to enflame cold hearts and enable the disciples with courage and confidence.
Yet, in the Gospel of the day the Spirit comes in the form of the gentleness of Jesus’ breath.
This is a wonderful paradox: the Spirit as both a mighty wind and a gentle breath; the Spirit as both this enabling courage and this quiet reassurance which is peace.
In each case, the Spirit awakens: either it jolts as a storm, or it acts like the zephyr of air at a moment just before dawn which ever so lightly nuzzles creation into daily life. In either case, we cannot see it, but we do we know it by its effects, by what has been stirred, by the way in which we have become more awakened to life, in life, and for life.
And this I think is the most aspect of the Holy Spirit – the Spirit awakens us.
In the Old Testament the word used to speak of the Spirit is breath, ruach. Ruach is thought of as the breath of God’s voice. All things are called to life through God’s Spirit and Word. And so, we read, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth” (Ps. 33: 6). When you take away their ruach they die. When you send forth your ruach they are created; and you renew the face of the earth” (Ps 104:29).
In the Hebrew mind, ruach and dabar -‑ God’s word ‑ are very close to one another. How interesting it is that dabar is masculine and ruach is feminine: both exist in complementarity.
The breath of God’s voice is the creative power from which everything that has life lives. The Spirit is the ‘drive’ and ‘instinct’ for life, awakened by God. Something touched by the Spirit then means something living compared with something dead, something moving over against that which is rigid and petrified.
The Spirit of God enSpirits us, endows us with purpose, with passion, with direction, with energy. The Spirit rouses us from our sleep, our lives of torpor, our somnolence, our passivity, our inertia. The Spirit encourages us – draws out our heart; the Spirit emboldens us.
The Spirit is experienced in us, then, whenever we say ‘yes’ to life. The writer Jurgen Moltmann teaches that,
“true spirituality will thus be the restoration of the love for life ‑ that is to say, vitality. The full and unreserved ‘yes’ to life, and the full and unreserved love for the living are the first experiences of God’s Spirit. . . .The spirituality of life breaks through [the] inward numbness [to life], the armour of our indifference, the barriers of our insensitivity to pain. It again breaks open the ‘well of life’ in us and among us, so that we can weep again and laugh again and love again.”
Moltmann concludes, “The more I love God the more gladly I exist. The more immediately and wholly I exist, the more I sense the living God, the inexhaustible well of life, and life’s eternity.” The end result is a greater sense of consciousness, of awareness, of aliveness.
And in bringing us to greater consciousness the Spirit manifests that which we had thought impossible. It is the Spirit which animates the recognition that things can be different, who informs our dreams and sets ablaze our hope.
In this way the Spirit leads us into ever new horizons. Moltmann highlights that the word ruach is probably related also to another word rewah, which means breadth. Similarly in English, the breath of God’s voice creates breadth. It sets in motion. It leads out of narrow places into wide vistas, and ever greater awareness of life. To experience the Spirit is to experience then what is divine as space – the space of freedom in which the person, alive and awake, can move. “You have set my feet in a broad place” (Ps 31:8). According to Moltmann, in “Kabbalistic Jewish tradition one of God’s secret names is MAKOM, the wide space.” God is this wide-open space in which new and hitherto unsuspected expectations about life are awakened. So, the experience of the Spirit is the experience of life’s new beginning.
St. Ireaneus wrote somewhere that the Christian life is a beginning moving through beginnings to a beginning. This is the source of Christian possibility and the way that we can enter into Kierkegaard’s marvellous aspiration ‑ even if tragically he could not personally realize it: “If I were to wish for something, I would wish not for wealth or power but for the passion of possibility, for the eye, eternally young, eternally ardent, that sees possibility everywhere. Pleasure disappoints; possibility does not.”
Because of the Spirit we are always at a new beginning, full of possibility!
So, this is essentially what Pope Francis puts to us in his letter, Christus Vivit
“I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (Joel 3:1; cf. Acts 2:17).
In so doing though he also points out to us how we hear the Spirit.
- By our Tradition
“I have sometimes seen young and beautiful trees, their branches reaching to the sky, pushing ever higher, and they seemed a song of hope. Later, following a storm, I would find them fallen and lifeless. They lacked deep roots. They spread their branches without being firmly planted, and so they fell as soon as nature unleashed her power. That is why it pains me to see young people sometimes being encouraged to build a future without roots, as if the world were just starting now. For it is impossible for us to grow unless we have strong roots to support us and to keep us firmly grounded. It is easy to drift off, when there is nothing to clutch onto, to hold onto”
Indeed, in the Gospel Jesus offers us the Spirit precisely so that we might ‘remember’.
“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (Jn. 14: 25-26)
And so, as Pope Francis points out
“Roots are not anchors chaining us to past times and preventing us from facing the present and creating something new. Instead, they are a fixed point from which we can grow and meet new challenges. It does us no good “to sit down and long for times past; we must meet our culture with realism and love and fill it with the Gospel. We are sent today to proclaim the Good News of Jesus to a new age. We need to love this time with all its opportunities and risks, its joys and sorrows, its riches and its limits, its successes and failures.”
As he concludes
“If we journey together, young and old, we can be firmly rooted in the present, and from here, revisit the past and look to the future. To revisit the past in order to learn from history and heal old wounds that at times still trouble us. To look to the future in order to nourish our enthusiasm, cause dreams to emerge, awaken prophecies and enable hope to blossom. Together, we can learn from one another, warm hearts, inspire minds with the light of the Gospel, and lend new strength to our hands.
During the Synod, one of the young auditors from the Samoan Islands spoke of the Church as a canoe, in which the elderly help to keep on course by judging the position of the stars, while the young keep rowing, imagining what waits for them ahead. Let us steer clear of young people who think that adults represent a meaningless past, and those adults who always think they know how young people should act. Instead, let us all climb aboard the same canoe and together seek a better world, with the constantly renewed momentum of the Holy Spirit.”
- By Listening to our own Hearts
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
But what are those plans?
What does God want of me?
How do I know what God wants of me?
How do I discern God’s will for me?
Each of us is a word of God
Each of us is struggling to hear the word that we are
And to speak the word that we have heard
And the plan that God has for us is about us becoming who we truly are,
the one he has brought into being
Not what we think we should be
Or what others think we should be
But who I am
To be able to speak out the word that I have heard myself to be
Who am I truly?
So this means to know God’s will I have to listen
But I am not listening to something ahead of me, or outside of me
Not a human voice
I am listening to me
I am listening to what is happening within me
This means I am reflecting deeply on my life, on my experience
What am I attending to?
Those experiences through which I
Come home to myself
Experience myself coming alive
Those experiences which give me a sense of passion
Where do I experience myself most at one with my self?
Where I can say, “This is me.”
Pope Francis puts it this way
“When seeking to discern our own vocation, there are certain questions we ought to ask. We should not start with wondering where we could make more money, or achieve greater recognition and social status. Nor even by asking what kind of work would be most pleasing to us. If we are not to go astray, we need a different starting point. We need to ask: Do I know myself, quite apart from my illusions and emotions? Do I know what brings joy or sorrow to my heart? What are my strengths and weaknesses? These questions immediately give rise to others: How can I serve people better and prove most helpful to our world and to the Church? What is my real place in this world? What can I offer to society? Even more realistic questions then follow: Do I have the abilities needed to offer this kind of service? Could I develop those abilities?”
The experiences I need to take seriously, to respect, to honour
This is me, this is my heart, this is who I am created as
This is the word in the world that I am
“The life that Jesus gives us is a love story, a life history that wants to blend with ours and sink roots in the soil of our own lives. That life is not salvation up ‘in the cloud’ and waiting to be downloaded, a new ‘app’ to be discovered, or a technique of mental self-improvement. Still less is that life a ‘tutorial’ for finding out the latest news. The salvation that God offers us is an invitation to be part of a love story interwoven with our personal stories; it is alive and wants to be born in our midst so that we can bear fruit just as we are, wherever we are and with everyone all around us. The Lord comes there to sow and to be sown.”
Second step: What lifestyle choices embrace this?
What context might both embrace and nurture this sense of self.
Parker Palmer: Vocation is born from where my passion and the hunger of the world meet
“These questions should be centred less on ourselves and our own inclinations, but on others, so that our discernment leads us to see our life in relation to their lives. That is why I would remind you of the most important question of all. “So often in life, we waste time asking ourselves: ‘Who am I?’ You can keep asking, ‘Who am I?’ for the rest of your lives. But the real question is: ‘For whom am I?’”. Of course, you are for God. But he has decided that you should also be for others, and he has given you many qualities, inclinations, gifts and charisms that are not for you, but to share with those around you.”
“I want you to know that, when the Lord thinks of each of you and what he wants to give you, he sees you as his close friend. And if he plans to grant you a grace, a charism that will help you live to the full and become someone who benefits others, someone who leaves a mark in life, it will surely be a gift that will bring you more joy and excitement than anything else in this world. Not because that gift will be rare or extraordinary, but because it will perfectly fit you. It will be a perfect fit for your entire life.”
Making a choice re this, assuming responsibility
Always a choice, always a risk
“A vocation, while a gift, will undoubtedly also be demanding. God’s gifts are interactive; to enjoy them we have to be ready to take risks. Yet the demands they make are not an obligation imposed from without, but an incentive to let that gift grow and develop, and then become a gift for others. When the Lord awakens a vocation, he thinks not only of what you already are, but of what you will one day be, in his company and in that of others.”
The third step: Listening to the ‘fruits’
Ignatius of Loyola
Consolation and Desolation
Discernment is going forward through the rear vision mirror
Discernment is always a risk, always an adventure, always open
 Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, 97.
 Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, 98.
 See Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, 43.
 Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, 43.
 Søren Kierkegaard, “Either/Or, A Fragment of Life,” in The Essential Kierkegaard, edited by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000), 45.
 Pope Francis, Christus Vivit, “Christ Lives,” Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation to the Youth of the World, (25 March 2019), n.192.
 Pope Francis, Christus Vivit, n.179.
 Pope Francis, Christus Vivit, n.200.
 Pope Francis, Christus Vivit, nn.199, 201.
 Pope Francis, Christus Vivit, n.285
 Pope Francis, Christus Vivit, n.252.
 Pope Francis, Christus Vivit, n.286.
 Pope Francis, Christus Vivit, n.288
 Pope Francis, Christus Vivit, n.289.
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