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Life, Spirit and Pentecost

Pentecost by Jim Whalen
Jim Whalen, Pentecost, 2013 | via Fine Art America

I have a confession: I’m still not quite sure what to do with the Holy Spirit.

I mean, I believe in the Holy Spirit. I’m just not quite sure how this third person of the Trinity fits into my paradigm of faith. The branch of evangelicalism that shaped my childhood was cessationist, and cessationism holds that the gifts of the Holy Spirit — and particularly miracles, tongues and prophecy — were limited to the apostolic age and do not continue in the church today.

Although cessationists are fully orthodox and affirm the Trinity, in my experience this theology tends to diminish the role and importance of the Holy Spirit. The spirit becomes the odd member out of the Trinity, not embodied like Jesus or clearly defined like God the Father and, without the spiritual gifts, seemingly mostly unnecessary.

I haven’t been cessationist for a long time; the Anglican Church in North America, my faith tradition for more than a decade now, has strong connections to charismatic movements and fully affirms the presence of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

And yet I still am uncomfortable with the Spirit. However, the great thing about liturgy is that, like it or not, we encounter the basic doctrines of the church over the course of the lectionary and the church year.

Yesterday was the feast of Pentecost, the culmination of the liturgical season of Eastertide and the celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Churchgoers wear red, orange and yellow while the altar and vestments change from celebratory white to fiery red to symbolize the flames dancing over the heads of the disciples.

Weird, right? Rushing wind, dancing flames, speaking in tongues: it’s like something out of a fantasy novel.

But as my priest preached on the Holy Spirit, he focused on the Spirit as the guarantee and foretaste of our coming resurrection life in Christ. Over at least the last decade, I’ve grown to see the beauty of the resurrection and the glory of the promise that all will one day be made whole in Christ. But I’d never made the connection between the Holy Spirit and this work before.

My priest’s sermon dovetailed with the book I’ve been reading by Jürgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life. In this book, Moltmann talks about the Holy Spirit as the spirit of life, the spirit through whom we have life in all its forms, from creation to new life in Christ. And if the Spirit is creating new life in us, then part of that new life may involve the gifts and promptings and even miraculous interventions of the Spirit.

I’m still figuring out how to relate to the Spirit myself. I’ve had a couple of undeniable encounters with the Spirit in the last year that I’m still working to understand, and that I’m still uncomfortable with on some level. But this framework of the Spirit as a spirit of life, as a guarantee and preview of the already-but-not-yet kingdom of heaven, creates a space for the spirit to work.

As long as I don’t have to speak in tongues.