Six years ago I described myself as something of a cynical charismatic. By this I meant that I recognised that the Holy Spirit could do incredible things, and yet seemed almost will fully opposed to doing that which we most needed or wanted. In many ways, I think this may be the area in which I’ve journeyed the most in the intervening period. My initial post was written as we slipped quietly out of the back door of Church. Our community was a beautiful one, but one which certainly prioritised the work of the Spirit. We’d seen incredible stuff, but we’d also noticed stuff around the edges when things hadn’t happened. I guess this would explain the cynicism in a way.
Somewhere between then and now I think I lost any sense of the charismatic. That stuff lay in the ‘unexplainable’ category, and not necessarily in a good way. At times it felt like it propagated some kind of elitism – if you experienced the Spirit, or were a ‘vessel’ for its movement…well, there was something special about you. If not…well, I guess you didn’t have enough faith? Now, please hear me clearly on this – I’m not criticising the motives of those involved, just the reality of our experience at the time.
What rescued the Spirit for me was a realisation that the charismatic movement’s theology was just one way of understanding this deep mystery. For thousands of years, faithful followers of Jesus had born witness to remarkable things…things that nothing could explain away – even post-enlightenment. The Spirit wasn’t so much some pet that we could summon as and when we needed it, but was a wild, untamed beast, often found far outside the doors of the Church, waiting for us to catch up with it.
In my original post I described the Spirit as the divine DNA within each of us – and I think that’s where I’ve come back to. If we are indeed all created with this Imago Dei, then it would make sense that this ‘divine breath’ that gives us life is that self same Spirit at work in us. The beauty of this is that it makes every single human life sacred, and means that every life carries within it a glimpse of the divine waiting to be discovered.
I also now recognise more the beauty of the idea that the Spirit is the ‘thing behind the thing’, that which lies beneath. What I mean here is that hard to glimpse movement that tells us something special is happening, something worth jumping in with, something worth celebrating, something worth living – and perhaps even dying – for. I’ve heard it described before as like that shimmering sound you hear when you strike a piano key hard…the strings vibrating in sympathy with the note struck. It’s that resonance, that deep sense that what we believe is not consigned to the history books, but is here and now.
The Spirit is kingdom come. The Spirit calls ‘come and play’, and we have a choice to make. We can choose to believe that we are powerless bystanders, or that we have within us the potential of being part of this great mystery in which we find ourselves – the making new of all things. The Spirit is that sense of unease, the sense of disruption, the sense of ‘more’, and yet somehow at the same time, a sense of security and calm, a sense of being loved for who we are.
I suppose if I were to say what I now believe the Spirit was, I might use the words of Julian of Norwich:
‘All shall be well,
and all shall be well
and all manner of things shall be well’.
All shall be well because we are not left alone in the midst of the mess in which we find ourselves – both individually and corporately. We could easily lose hope…and yet…
All shall be well because something is afoot. The Spirit is at work…
All shall be well.