The Spirit

It is probably fair to say that we cannot hope to stand on the threshold of Knowledge and Mystery on our own strength. It is unlikely that we could even recognise it for what it is without some deeper insight - something that leads us beyond what we can experience with our senses and explore with our reason.

This "something" is the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity - but one that is easier to define by what He does than by trying to explain who He is.

And even here, we hit a problem - He? - or She? The Holy Spirit is the Person who challenges the limitations of our languages.

In Hebrew, the word for Spirit is ruach which speaks of the breath of God - It is ruach which hovers over the waters - ruach breathed into the nostrils of Adam and eve - and ruach is feminine (She)

But the Spirit spoken of in Paul and the other New Testament Writers becomes spiritus - a masculine noun.

The gender of nouns is not usually used to fix the gender of the object - a table in French would be "une table" (feminine) a desk "un bureau" (masculine). Nobody would say a table was female or a desk male - but sometimes, we are tempted to limit God to the gender of the words we use. English does not use gender for nouns - but we still don’t have a word that means both masculine and feminine. This leaves people trying to tie themselves in knots as they claim that God is neither male nor female but Someone in whom there is a fullness of both - but for whom there is no adequate word! Until someone invents one, we are destined to struggle - and perhaps in the struggle is a lesson - God is bigger than human words - or concepts - and we have to recognise that any word applied to God - even "good" - even "love" is never going to come close to the reality that is God.

The Spirit too leaves us aware of the inadequacy of language. One of the gifts of the Spirit - explored by the people of Corinth and enjoying a renaissance in our day - is praying in tongues. This is an ecstatic language which bears no relation to the limits of a known language - and so becomes purely spiritual prayer. It is possible that the sense of loss that many Catholics felt at the loss of Latin in the Liturgy is the loss of a language that took people beyond the limits of words they understood!

And yet, the wonder is that this Mysterious Person - flowing from the life of the Trinity into the life of the world actually communicates with human beings - and inspires words and actions that could have no other origin. Words of prophecy as people look at the signs of the times - and speak of what they see - and its implications for the future. Words and actions of healing - of the search for justice - of reconciliation - all come through the breath of the Spirit.

For some, the Inspiration comes forcibly - like St Paul on the road to Damascus - the disciples in Jerusalem - ordinary people who didn’t know what had hit them - but knew that life was never going to the same again. No wonder they speak of being "born again" in the Spirit.

For others it is gentler - an Inspiration that takes them through a lifetime of faithful service to the Gospel.

Whichever way the Spirit chooses to give His/ Her gifts - to breathe Life into people’s souls, the effect is the same - to draw them into the Divine and eternal love story that is the Trinity.

Drinking from the Wellspring

  • Is your Inspiration dramatic or a gentle infusion through life?

  • What experiences in your life could you use as foundations for belief in the Spirit?

1999 Wellspring

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