I ♥ the Holy Spirit

“The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience!” ~ Emily Dickinson

Most of you, by now, know that Pentecost is my favorite day in the Christian year. There’s about reasons why I love it, not the least of is that it’s really the birthday of the Church. Another reason? I love the story, and the visual of tongues of fire and people speaking in tongues.

But mostly I love it because it’s an encounter with the Holy Spirit.

My friend Dennis Covington, who is a writer from Birmingham, wrote a book called Salvation on Sand Mountain. The book is about Pentecostal Holiness churches in North Alabama, who handle snakes during their worship services. The book came out of a murder committed by a minister—he made his wife handle a snake when she was not “in the Spirit.”

In an interview with Sojourners Magazine, Dennis says:

While I was hanging out with the handlers, I continued to go to my own church in Birmingham a lot. I was frustrated because I wanted to shout “Amen” and “Praise God,” and stick my hands up and carry on. I couldn’t understand why we didn’t just let go. Now that I’m back there more or less on a permanent basis, I’m kind of reconciled to that form of worship.

The only thing we do in the Baptist Church that’s anything remotely like what the snake handlers do is to lay on hands during the ordination of deacons. I was ordained a deacon about a month ago in my church, and that was as powerful and moving as anything that happened to me with the handlers. When my father-in-law, a lifetime deacon who now has Parkinson’s disease, came down to lay hands on me—a very difficult ordeal for him—I felt those shaking hands on my head as he whispered in my ear. The sky took off.

When describing at one point a memory when Dennis’ uncle, a minister, committed suicide, Dennis drew a parallel between that memory and the snake handler’s continual flirtation with death or, as some would say, with suicide. Dennis wrote, “My uncle’s death confirmed a suspicion of mine that madness and religion were a hair’s breadth apart. My beliefs about the nature of God and man have changed over the years, but that one never has. Feeling after God is dangerous business. And Christianity without passion, danger, and mystery may not really be Christianity at all.

This, from the 2nd Chapter of Acts:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Feeling after God is dangerous business. And Christianity without passion, danger, and mystery may not really be Christianity at all.

What exactly is this Holy Spirit, Spirit of God, of which the text talks about? First, the word for Spirit in Hebrew is ruach, and in Greek, it’s pneuma. Both words mean wind, or breath. And both words, contrary to what my seminary language professors taught, have feminine endings. I asked, over and over, why these words are considered neuter when their endings really note that they are feminine. The argument is strengthened when you consider that many times, in the Hebrew Bible, the word ruach is paired with the word Sophia, or wisdom, a definite feminine word, and a feminine embodiment.

There are other religions who have a Trinitarian understanding. In Hinduism, there’s the Trimurti (English: ‘three forms’; Sanskrit: त्रिमूर्ति trimūrti), a concept in Hinduism “in which the cosmic functions of creation, maintenance, and destruction are personified by the forms of Brahmā the creator, Viṣṇu the maintainer or preserver, and Śiva the destroyer or transformer.” Three divinities of the Zoroastrian pantheon are repeatedly identified as ahuric, which is a designation for a particular class of Zoroastrian divinities. These three are Ahura Mazda, Mithra and Burz, and hence known as the “Ahuric triad.” The Classical Greek trio of Zeus (father), Leto (mother), and Apollo (son) is known to most of us. In ancient Egypt there were many triads, the most famous among them that of Osiris (man), Isis (wife), and Horus (son), local triads like the Theban triad of Amun, Mut and Khonsu and the Memphite triad of Ptah, Sekhmet and Nefertem, the sungod Ra, whose form in the morning was Kheper, at noon Re-Horakhty and in the evening Atum, and many others. So, you see that the idea of a feminine third of a Trinity is not unusual.

So, imagine, if you will, that we have a feminine side of our God, who is responsible for some very interesting things in the Bible:

Creation (Genesis 1:1-3) …and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters

Artistic Ability (Exodus 31:1-5) Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts- to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship.

Leadership (Numbers 11:16-17) The LORD said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the Tent of Meeting, that they may stand there with you. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them. They will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone.

The Power to Make War and Peace (Judges 3:9-11) But when they cried out to the LORD, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The LORD gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died.

Feats of Strength (Judges 14:5-6) Samson went down to Timnah together with his father and mother. As they approached the vineyards of Timnah, suddenly a young lion came roaring toward him. The Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat.

Change a Person (1 Samuel 10:6) The Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person.

Speak Through a Person (2 Samuel 23:2) The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me; his word was on my tongue.

Bring Justice and Righteousness (Isaiah 32:14-16) The fortress will be abandoned, the noisy city deserted; citadel and watchtower will become a wasteland forever, the delight of donkeys, a pasture for flocks, till the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest. Justice will dwell in the desert and righteousness live in the fertile field.

Cause Prophesy
(Joel 2:28) And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.

Impregnating Virgins (Matthew 1:18) This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.

Leading People (Matthew 4:1) Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.

Baptizing (Mark 1:8) I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

Anointing and Empowering (Luke 4:17-19) The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

The people who were present on that fateful morning in Jerusalem, when the Holy Spirit rushed through the room, they experienced all of the above. They experienced the presence of God in a way that people rarely feel God’s Spirit. I’ve felt the Holy Spirit like that. Have you? So what happened to them after meeting that Spirit?

The account of Stephen is very well documented in the Bible (Acts chapters 6 and 7). He is generally regarded as the first Christian martyr. James, the brother of John, was “put to death with the sword” by King Herod (Acts 12:2) Philip reportedly suffered martyrdom at Heliopolis, in Phrygia. He was severely flogged, imprisoned, and later crucified. Matthew, the former tax collector was killed with a halberd (a pike fitted with an ax head) in Nadabah. James was stoned and clubbed to death in Jerusalem. Matthias was stoned, then beheaded at Jerusalem. Andrew, the brother of Peter was crucified on an X-shaped cross, two ends of which were in the ground. Hence the origin of the term, “St. Andrew’s Cross”. Mark was reportedly torn to pieces by a mob in Alexandria after he told them that their god, a statue carved from stone, was worthless (see Images and Idols). Peter was reportedly crucified, upside down, during the reign of Emperor Nero. Jude, the brother of James, often called Thaddeus, was crucified at Edessa. Bartholomew was tortured and crucified in India. Thomas was reportedly killed with a spear in India. Luke was the author of the Gospel which is called by his name, and also probably the Book Of Acts. One account states that he died of old age, while another says that he was hanged in an olive tree in Greece. Simon the Zealot traveled widely, and is believed to have been crucified in what is today Britain. John took care of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ (not the mother of God), after the Crucifixion (John 19:26-27). He went on to write the Book of Revelation while a prisoner on Patmos. He may be the only apostle who escaped a violent death. Barnabas is believed to have been killed about 10 years after Paul.

It never dawned on me before writing this that the reason these people were martyred is because they were there on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit inspired, filled, touched, filled, empowered, anointed, gave visions, all that stuff to these folks. And they weren’t just out talking about Jesus, but were, like Jesus, standing up against the powers that be. That’s probably why they were killed.

People are rarely killed for ideas. They are killed for action.

Feeling after God is dangerous business. And Christianity without passion, danger, and mystery may not really be Christianity at all.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Dr. Tiller this week. I listened to a few people who knew him this week, at a vigil at First Unitarian Universalist Church. You know the story. This man performed late term, legal abortions. Most of the babies that Tiller aborted were wanted babies where something had gone terribly wrong. He was murdered, assassinated, martyred by a pro-life activist in church.

He was not killed for his ideas. Although people talk a lot about his drive and determination for the rights of women, his understanding that until women are empowered to make decisions about their bodies, they will never be equal. He was not killed for being a standoffish, distant, quiet man. He got involved with his clients. One man wrote, following a late-term abortion of his conjoined twins:

The nightmare of our decision and the aftermath was only made bearable by the warmth and compassion of Dr. Tiller and his remarkable staff. Dr. Tiller understood that this decision was the most difficult thing that a woman could ever decide and he took the time to educate us and guide us along with the other two couples who at the time were being forced to make the same decision after discovering that they too were carrying children impacted by horrible fetal anomalies. I could describe in great detail the procedures and the pain and suffering that everyone is subjected to in these situations. However, that is not the point of the post. We can all imagine that this is not something that we would wish on anyone. The point is that the pain and suffering were only mitigated by the compassion and competence of Dr. George Tiller and his staff. We are all diminished today for a host of reasons but most of all because a man of great compassion and courage has been lost to the world.

Feeling after God is dangerous business. And Christianity without passion, danger, and mystery may not really be Christianity at all.

2 Comments

  1. The treatment of women inside the Christian church is a major issue with me. I have tried to return to a local fellowship here in my town, but have found it to be too oppressive.

    I have flip-flopped on the abortion issue for years, but as I’ve aged, I’ve become much more liberal about the subject. I do not believe that any life is better than no life at all. As much as I long for a child, I would abort a fetus if she/he would have serious birth defects, as much as it would hurt me.

  2. Your blogs always make me think….hard…

    much of it I don’t understand, because I don’t recall most of my bible studies.

    As for the abortionist killed by a pro-lifer: what an oxymoron.

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