Archive for Holy Spirit

Signs and wonders and the way God works

“Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”

John 4: 43-54

At Capernaum, Jesus is asked by an official to come and heal his son. Jesus tells the man “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official begs him to come before his son dies and Jesus replies, “Go; your son will live.” Then we read, “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went his way. ” 

I think a lot about signs and wonders. Things have changed so much since Bible times. In Jesus’ days, signs were a witness–proof that someone was speaking for God. Everyone believed that was the way the system worked. No signs, not true.

Now days, I suspect the opposite is true. People are suspicious of miracles. I once attended a church where the pastor was decidedly anti-miracle–even going so far in his Ascension Sunday sermon as to ridicule the idea that Jesus ascended bodily into heaven “like a helicopter.” I’ve read other, far more conservative writers who preach that the age of miracles is over and the Holy Spirit doesn’t work that way anymore. Gospel truth is set; we don’t need miracles now for revelation (certainly not for individual revelations), and if you want to know what God’s truth is, they will tell you–in much the same way as the more liberal anti-miracle pastor. They were all of them so very sure.

But the idea that keeps me flexible in this regard is a firm belief in God’s omnipotence. He does what He pleases. And while we may very well be skeptical of God’s desire for us to find parking, or his speaking to us through fortune cookies, we probably ought to believe that he could. That he might. If he wanted to.

That belief that God might want to do something we hadn’t anticipated or desired seems to be a stumbling block for all kinds of people: liberals and conservatives, scholastics and skeptics. All of them trying to pin God down to a system so his actions are logical, or at least predictable. Many people just want to know how this all works, and then hold God to it. They may call it Justice or they may call it Love, but somehow, it all seems to work the same.

Here’s a thought, for what it’s worth: if God is God and does what he wants, maybe we should spend our energies trying to better understand his desires. Maybe we should seek to know his heart. I can’t tell you how that’s done. I’m trying to figure it out myself. But I don’t think it will look like a system; probably something a bit wilder and fiercer, and more beautiful.


Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe


Illustration by Pauline Baynes

Illustration by Pauline Baynes

The compassionate presence of the Spirit

"Campfire Pinecone" by Emeldil at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

“Campfire Pinecone” by Emeldil at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

…real prayer brings us closer to our fellow human beings. Prayer is the first and indispensable discipline of compassion precisely because prayer is also the first expression of human solidarity. Why is this so? Because the Spirit who prays in us is the Spirit by whom all human beings are brought together in unity and community. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of peace, unity, and reconciliation, constantly reveals itself to us as the power through whom people from the most diverse social, political, economic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds are brought together as sisters and brothers of the same Christ and daughters and sons of the same Father.

To prevent ourselves from slipping into spiritual romanticism or pious sentimentality, we must pay careful attention to the compassionate presence of the Holy Spirit. The intimacy of prayer is the intimacy created by the Holy Spirit who, as the bearer of the new mind and the new time, does not exclude but rather includes our fellow human beings. In the intimacy of prayer, God is revealed to us as the One who loves all members of the human family just as personally and uniquely as God loves us. Therefore, a growing intimacy with God deepens our sense of responsibility for others. It evokes in us an always increasing desire to bring the whole world with all its suffering and pains around the divine fire in our heart and to share the revitalizing heat with all who want to come.  

Henri Nouwen from Compassion (Doubleday: 1982) quoted in The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life (Crossroad: 1999, pp.61-62).

The anxious quest

St. Joseph Church Plain City, Ohio Photo: Wikimedia Commons

St. Joseph Church, Plain City, Ohio
Photo: Wikimedia Commons


Other people may teach us how to seek God, and angels, how to adore him, but the Holy Spirit alone teaches how to find him, possess him and enjoy him. The Spirit himself is the anxious quest of the one who truly seeks, he is the devotion of the one who adores in spirit and truth, he is the wisdom of the one who finds, the love of the one who possesses, the gladness of the one who enjoys.

William of Saint Thierry



from The Golden Epistle, quoted in In the School of Love: An Anthology of Early Cistercian Texts, selected and annotated by Edith Scholl, OCSO. Cistercian Publications, 2000, p.139.

A people prepared

painting by Pieter Janssens Elinga, 1668-1672 Hermitage Museum Photo: Web Gallery of Art

painting by Pieter Janssens Elinga, 1668-1672
Hermitage Museum
Photo: Web Gallery of Art


And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God,
and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Eli′jah,
to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,
and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.

(Gabriel speaking to Zechariah, from Luke 1)


Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them;” he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”

Revelation 21: 1-4

I hate to admit it, but about the only times my house is really top-to-bottom clean is when company’s coming. The rest of the time it’s a-lick-and-a-promise clean, with the debris of daily living strewn about, and the recycling waiting for me to take it out. It’s not terrible, but I’m just not one of those people who plans for sudden death by always leaving the house ready for people to come in and see it.

On the other hand, when folks are coming over I pull out the vacuum and scour the sinks and refresh the soap dispensers and put out the good hand towels. I will suddenly see dirt that was invisible for weeks, because I want my guests to be comfortable and to know that I made an effort for them. I don’t want to be trying to do things after they arrive. I want to be ready so I can give the visit my full attention.

If only company came every day….

Advent is a lot of that sort of preparation. We’re cleaning, we’re praying, we’re tidying up our homes and our hearts. Prepare!

If only Jesus came every day…

Perhaps that’s one reason why we say grace at the table:

“Komm, Herr Jesu; sei du unser Gast; und segne, was du uns bescheret hast.” 

“Come, Lord, Jesus, our Guest to be, And bless these gifts bestowed by Thee.”

May each year of preparation bring us closer to lives of constant readiness.


Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation,
that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a
mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Collect for the 4th Sunday in Advent

Truths in unexpected places

True of humanity and true of the Church:


“The only way really to understand your position and its worth is to understand the opposite.

That doesn’t mean the crazy guy on the radio who is spewing hate, it means the decent human truths of all the people who feel the need to listen to that guy. You are connected to those people. They’re connected to him. You can’t get away from it. This connection is part of contradiction. It is the tension I was talking about. This tension isn’t about two opposite points, it’s about the line in between them, and it’s being stretched by them. We need to acknowledge and honor that tension, and the connection that that tension is a part of. Our connection not just to the people we love, but to everybody, including people we can’t stand and wish weren’t around. The connection we have is part of what defines us on such a basic level.”

–from Joss Whedon’s 2013 commencement address at Wesleyan University


Led or driven?

First Temptation of Christ
from Champagne-Ardenne, France c.1170-1180
Victoria & Albert Museum


Each year as Lent begins we read the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. There are three versions found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Matthew and Luke are similar, but for some reason, Mark leaves out all the specifics of the temptation and condenses the account to two verses.

There’s a lot to think about in this story and in the way it’s told, but the one detail that stops me every year is this: in Matthew and Luke, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness, but Mark says that he was driven.  Led or driven? Did he jump or was he pushed?

The Spirit in both these accounts is one I recognize.  Sometimes the Spirit leads you gently: reassuring you, beckoning you to step forward. Other times, he drives you like Jonah to Nineveh.  Don’t even try to ignore the prodding, the Holy Ghost is not going to let you be, and he won’t stand for dawdling either.  It feels like the difference between “I want to” and “I can do no other.”  Not that we always mind being compelled to action. There is a certain reassurance in feeling that God is actually telling you something specific, since he is more often vague in his communications.

But I wonder about Jesus’ time in the wilderness. Did he know what was out there before he arrived? And why is it that Luke doesn’t tell of angels ministering to Jesus (a nice, comforting detail), but says Jesus “returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee” making it sound like the Spirit drove Jesus out of the wilderness?

I guess for me, this one troublesome detail isn’t so much about Jesus and his preparation for ministry as it is about the Holy Spirit and the way God moves in this world among us, preparing us for difficult tasks ahead.  Sometimes he leads and sometimes he pushes.  But if we respond to the Spirit’s direction, then perhaps he will take us to the place we need to be, to learn what we need to know.  I hope so—even if it is a desert.

Nothing to do but pray

Free will. Agency. Good works.

So much of our identity as Christians, as humans, is tied up with what we do. We move in the world, we make a mark. We daily reenact the story of the Fall as we choose good or evil, obedience or disobedience. We further the Kingdom as we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.  And we feel a great sense of frustration and helplessness when our friends and loved ones are burdened, and there is nothing we can do but pray.

And yet…how can we imagine we do nothing when our work becomes one with the work of the Spirit? What do we imagine we are doing when we pray?


The greatest gift we have to offer one another is indeed our collective prayer — not merely kind wishes, not simply good intentions, but deep prayer—the ability to hold, tangibly and intentionally, others in that abundant love that flows freely and gracefully within us and among us. This has substance. This has weight and heft. This, and this alone, is the source of deep healing, lasting transformation, and enduring peace.


From a pastoral letter by Episcopal Diocese of Colorado Bishop Robert O’Neill that was to be read in congregations across Colorado on Sunday, July 22, 2012 following the shooting at a cinema in Aurora, Colorado.

An inquiring nature

…For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.   I Corinthians 2:10

As I read this, I am struck by the words “the Spirit searcheeverything” — and I wonder “why does the Spirit search?” The Spirit moves, actively probing, penetrating even the depths of God. Why?  Perhaps because the Spirit wants to know, because the Spirit has an inquiring nature, and because God wants to be known.

God’s Grandeur

God’s Grandeur
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.


And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.