May 29, 2017

Alive in the Heat of the Holy Spirit

            In her classic spiritual writing The Interior Castle, Teresa of Avila says that the soul becomes “alive in the heat of the Holy Spirit.” She likens the kindling of the soul to that of a silkworm who undergoes metamorphosis to a graceful new form of life. The ancient creed spoke of the Spirit as “the Lord, the giver of life,” which suggests that all creation depends upon the vivifying power of God’s warming presence.

            Key Scriptural metaphors for the Spirit are flame, wind, and oil—a rather combustible mix. Whether guiding through the wilderness as fiery pillar, blowing life into creation, or anointing God’s messiah for powerful ministry, the Spirit is God’s powerful presence in material reality.

            Next Sunday the church will celebrate Pentecost, which is about the new form of the people of God. No longer bound by national, ethnic, or linguistic identity, the emerging church is a dynamic expression of God’s continuing work to gather into one body God’s own.

            Central in the early proclamation of the Gospel is the word dunamis, used 120 times in the New Testament. It is one of the earliest words a fledgling Greek scholar learns. It refers to “strength, power, or ability.” We derive words such as dynamite, dynamo, and dynamic from this energetic word. In its varied contexts in the Gospels and Epistles, it describes the power that comes from God to live in the new creation, fueled by the Spirit in accordance with Christ’s resurrection.

            The Spirit did not just come at Pentecost, even though that might be the most spectacular demonstration with the attendant wind, flaming tongues, and powerful preaching. The Spirit broods over the face of the deep at the very beginning of creation, empowers leaders of the ancient people of God, hovers over the conceiving mother of Jesus, and now attends the birthing of the church.

            The Spirit also works in quiet, almost imperceptible modes. The Spirit sustains individual lives within Christ’s Body, revealing our interdependence. From the Holy Breath of God (the Orthodox term for the Spirit) comes resilience; from the spark of the Spirit comes the capacity to imagine creative ministry; from the comforting Spirit comes the hope of eternal life, dwelling with God and all the saints who have gone before.

            If we are receptive, however, the Spirit will continue to heat us up with compassion, generosity, and transformative actions. As Ignatius of Loyola told his Jesuit recruits, “Go and set the world on fire.” May it be so!

Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares leaders who seek God, shape churches, and serve the world.

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