Tuesday, 25 July 2017
The Holy Spirit and the Church part 1
I have a line that I use to describe the position of the Holy Spirit in organized religion, “it is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Trinity—it don’t get no respect”.
Although the Holy Spirit is given its due on Pentecost Sunday and a few other times in the church calendar, it seems to me that not a lot of attention is paid to it in our branch of religion in any case. Pentecostalism of course gives it its due. However, speaking in tongues is not a biggie in Anglicanism and generally other branches of mainline Christianity. Not that I am proposing that speaking in tongues become a part of Anglican liturgy. I wonder what would happen if some parishioners started in one of our services. It would be very interesting to say the least.
I believe that this is due to the fact that if the Holy Spirit is given the attention and reverence it is due, religious leaders would not have the control that they believe is necessary to ensure that Christianity, as they understand it, will survive and thrive. Richard Rohr addressed this recently in one of his Daily Meditations:
If religious teachers told their parishioners about contemplation, where individuals can experience the mercy of God for themselves, they would not be so dependent upon the clergy. Although this codependency is not engineered maliciously, it does create job security. We all have a hard time doing things that essentially work ourselves out of a job or make ourselves unnecessary. Sin management does hold the flock together, but soon we realize that there is little maturity, or even love, in a flock that is glued together in this way. The passive, passive-dependent, and passive-aggressive nature of the church is rather obvious to many of us who have worked on the inside.
Richard is speaking of contemplation; however, this is just one form that the Holy Spirit can and does work in our lives and in the world. The problem with the Holy Spirit is that, as John declares in his Gospel, “The wind* blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). It is hard to develop church policies and procedures around something that is out of our direct control.
The Holy Spirit is the Person of the Trinity which is at work in the world. It brings change and creates as it did when all of this was begun by God, “In the beginning when God created* the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God* swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1: 1-2).
As Richard notes, it is normal for church leaders to try and ensure that the church and especially the laity are dependent on them. It is not just a case of “job security” as Richard suggests, although that is probably at least some of the motivation. Any organization needs to ensure its existence; indeed it has been proposed that this is the first concern of every organization. The church, although it is ordained by God and was created on Pentecost by that very Holy Spirit, is run by people who are very human.
I don’t believe that this is an either-or situation in respect to the Holy Spirit and the church. Indeed Richard Rohr believes that dualistic thinking is not the goal of our development. I know that if Christians are to live out their calling in the world we are called to be in community in which we gather in Jesus name; the church is absolutely necessary; it is ordained by God. So, how can we be the church and be open to the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit is at work in the world in more ways than we can ever grasp or imagine. Indeed, as a Spiritual Director I attempt to help directees identify and deepen the ways in which the Holy Spirit is at work in their lives. Richard notes one way, through contemplation. Another is through dreams. I consider dreams to be “God’s Forgotten Language” which is a term of John’s Sanford (and the title of his excellent introduction to dream work). In my training in leading dream groups through the Haden Institute it is stressed that dream groups are best when they are under the umbrella of a church congregation/parish. This enables the work of the Holy Spirit to have a container which will allow the work to take root and flourish.
Similarly, the contemplative life needs to be grounded in and through an organization whether it is a church congregation/parish, a monastic community or other religious structure.
The question that we are faced with in the church today is how do we enable the Holy Spirit to work in us both as individuals and those organizations we are part of? I will explore that more next week.
I will leave you with the question, “how is the Holy Spirit at work in your life today and how do you best recognize its presence in your life”?
Blessings on your journey.