Saturday, 6 June 2009

Breath of life

What is this Holy Spirit we hear about? Do we really know?

If we already regard ourselves as Christians, we surely carry an awareness with us all the time; we may speak of the Spirit among ourselves but do we, at any meaningful level, know the reality of which we speak? Do we have anything more than the often heard, the learned, the comfortable and assumed to be true hand-me-down stories of our childhood and those immensely influential years? They will undoubtedly have left us with memorable and cosy images of Jesus, but the Holy Spirit?

I am sure I am not alone in having spent forty years without any real sense of spiritual guidance, or comfort, or wonder, or gift in all that I heard or experienced; and that is with my life being built on a continuous and ever-present Christian upbringing and background. There was always a sense of receiving a gift in the bewilderingly beautiful and peace-bringing glory that was the natural world around me. In one way or another it has been my unquenchable source of excitement and joy throughout my life; but the Holy Spirit remained a lifeless part of what I sat through and heard about year after year.
Somewhere along the way, between the point at which I recognized a major change in my whole Spiritual life and a less discernible point somewhere in my more recent past, The Holy Spirit seemed to leap into life. Of course, it was my own awareness that had changed: it was me that leapt into life, and when I landed it was in a place without my accustomed barriers, and where the Spirit was given access to my heart and my mind, and more. Something deep within me was both consumed and impregnated by the Holy Spirit. Something which, if it could only express its feelings of interminable longing, and love, and peace, and joy, would also be enabled to kindle the flames of spiritual desire in others and thus burst into the realms of fulfilment. I can find no other word for it: it is my soul.
Soul: another word whose meaning sometimes seems to get lost among Christianity’s fluctuating and debilitating uncertainties. Such uncertainty should not exist, but however firmly we think we believe, we remain unsure about something. We are ‘believers’, but we doubt. We have faith, but not all the time. We know, but we question. What we lack is certainty; what we long for is certainty, but certainty is the one thing we cannot have. We can come closer to it than we may imagine possible through the realized and appreciated presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, but the reality of that presence is as indefinable as the reality of that core of feeling, emotion and life –other life– that I speak of as my soul.

‘In Sacred Scripture the term "soul" often refers to human life or the entire human person. But "soul" also refers to the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value in him, that by which he is most especially in God's image: "soul" signifies the spiritual principle in man. (Catechism of the Catholic Church. 363)

It is this personal inability to define the external power that would twin with our own equally indescribable centre of being that prevents any likelihood of certainty. We may experience a sense of something we call certainty, and it may seem long-lasting, but it will eventually waver and slip away. In the same way that there is only one truth, regardless of what we may believe to be the truth, certainty is not what it seems unless it is unshakeably certain. The only ‘truth’ which is true is The Truth. The only ‘certainty’ of which we can be certain is Certainty, and that is not granted to us. Faith would not be required if we were able to achieve and maintain absolute certainty, and it is faith that we are called to have. It is faith that will move mountains, and it is faith that enables prayers to be answered.

‘In truth I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt at all, ... even if you say to this mountain, “Be pulled up and thrown into the sea,” it will be done. And if you have faith, everything you ask for in prayer, you will receive.’ (Matthew 21:21-22).

How many of us can imagine having a faith equivalent to what we call certainty? A faith resulting in mountains actually moving as a result of our undoubted expectation that it will happen? And we are so sure that if this happened we would have our proof, and then we would have real faith! The reality is that it will never happen for us because we find that level of faith impossible; and faith must precede realization, just as realization always precedes proof. It is only a God given proof acquired through faith that will transcend the faith demanded of us.

‘Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of realities that are unseen.’ (Hebrews 11:1).

My own near-certainty is perpetuated by my experience of being out in the elements; among mountains, yes, but also on far smaller hilltops; deep in forests, yes, but also in small patches of woodland; in the vastness of a treeless landscape, and in the seclusion of shadows beneath ancient trees. But I have been blessed with a faith that has leeched its way back from the drenching of this deeper solitude, to the simple quiet of a field of wheat, a cider orchard, a tumbled barn, the wheeling Buzzard, a country lane, skylarks, swifts, and the Barn Owl that ghosts above my smiling face as I watch it hunt with the setting sun two minutes from my home. And home itself, with its own life-giving qualities, is now impregnated with that same smile of growing conviction that God knows of my presence in this world, and that we are within reach of each other.
The warmth of the sunshine, the sound and the feel of the rain, the silence of snow, the crescendo of breathless wonder that is the thunderstorm; the bluest blue skies and the artistry of the ever changing clouds; all these I love, but what brings me to life, what links my childhood, my youth, my manhood and my gradually emerging spiritual maturity, is the movement of the air around me. It is not so much the touch as the broader awareness of its presence, highlighted for me by the sound of the wind, in the trees especially, but also across the grass or heather coated hills, and by the movement created by its passing. It lifts me to realms I find it impossible to access in any other way. I am transported – as recently stated – ‘with my breath and the wind sighing as one’.

What is this Holy Spirit we hear about? Do we really know?
It is the breath of God.
Whenever and wherever I hear the wind, I know that I am within His grasp and am being blown where God wills. But my nearest approach to certainty is that He is blowing right through me. He is the Spirit of Truth, and Truth is the only explanation I can offer for the production of so many joyful tears.

Open yourself to God’s universal gift: The Holy Spirit: the Spirit of Truth: the Breath of God.
Let it drive you forward to your destination; let it fill your sail and blow you to where your hidden gifts are to blossom and bear fruit. Let it guide you to the very edge of your faith, and beyond to the realization of God’s dream within you.
It is there, waiting for you.

If you can hear the voice of Jesus ... “Come, follow me”,
your soul already knows what your answer needs to be;
just one word from the heart ...


About Me

Who I am should be, and should remain, of little consequence to you. Who you are is what matters; who you are meant to be is what should matter most to you. In coming closer to my own true self, I have gradually been filled with the near inexpressible: I have simply become "brim full", and my words to you are drawn from those uttered within myself, as part of an undeniable overflowing that brings a smile to my every dusk, and to my every new dawn.
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