As the global church once again celebrates Pentecost, it is important to think of the expansive presence and work of the Spirit. We know that the experience of the early disciples in Jerusalem soon rippled across the Mediterranean world, and Spirit-inspired power prompted persons to proclaim Jesus as Lord rather than Caesar, a remarkably courageous confession.
On Saturday, the eve of Pentecost, Central hosted a premier scholar of American Christianity, Diana Butler Bass. We conducted a conversation about the Spirit, a neglected area of interest for too many centuries and too many ecclesial quarters in the Body of Christ. People are hungry for God, and the Spirit is the means by which we experience God.
Dr. Butler Bass told a story of about a service in her home church in Alexandria, VA, which prompted her to leave mid-sermon. It occurred a decade after the 9/11 tragedy, and the preacher for the day spoke of those killed in the ensuing wars—4000 Americans—failing to mention the tens of thousands killed in Afghanistan and other so-called enemy countries.
As she left the sanctuary, she encountered an art festival that filled the streets with color and joy and exuberance. As she reflected on the graphic contrast between what she had experienced in the worship service and the vitality outdoors, she said, “I felt as if the Spirit was out here” rather than in the narrow confines of the church with its judgment and self-interest.
When we read the story in Acts 2:1-21 of the coming of the Spirit in power, through new expressions, we see that those who receive God’s dynamic empowerment are compelled to go public. That each hears the witness to God’s igniting presence as Spirit in his or her own language demonstrates the desire of God for all people (2:11).
The Spirit is always transgressing the boundaries we impose to try to secure our sense of identity. Whether it be ethnic, gendered, or ecclesial borders, none can delimit the sphere of the Spirit’s work. We cannot consign the Spirit to functions such as speaking in tongues or granting spiritual gifts, rather the Spirit is about “our deepest breath and our highest human aspirations,” in the words of Jack Levison in Fresh Air.
The Spirit of God gives life to all of creation, and nothing exists without the inspiring presence of God. Suffusing all with holy breath and brimming desire, the Spirit draws God’s treasured creation toward its divine purpose and joyous completion. The Spirit draws humans into this trinitarian history, granting us the dignity of being God’s partner in this inspired and redemptive work.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity. To learn more, continue visiting our website.