This week we are listening for news of the Spirit of God. There is citing of the Spirit all over scripture from the first book to the last, but – as you might expect by now, they aren’t consistent or especially descriptive. In the readings, pay attention to which member of the Trinity is present, which is first, and which one does the sending of the Spirit out to do God’s work.
But first, just because I’m kind of ornery after reading the early church history again this week, what do you suppose happened to the fourth member of the Trinity? Her name is Sophia in Greek, Chochma in Hebrew, and she is Wisdom (both feminine nouns). There is a strong Wisdom tradition throughout the Bible, but she gets no role in the patristic era of church formation. I wonder why? (she says sarcastically)
Aside from my peevishness, this does pertain to our topic, so, from Proverbs, chapter 8: Wisdom speaks:
“The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth— when he had not yet made earth and fields or the world’s first bits of soil. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains from below, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command,when he marked out the foundations of the earth, I was beside him, like a master worker;and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”
From Genesis 1: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and void, and darkness covered the deep, and the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters.”
From the prologue to John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Later in John’s gospel, Jesus is saying farewell to the disciples, assuring them of his/ God’s/the Spirit’s continuing presence with them.
“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I will not leave you orphaned… I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Paraclete, Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you…”
And from the Nicene creed:
“We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son,*who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.”
Here we go again: Last week I talked about the Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds and the controversies Greek grammar and logic of the 3rd and 4th centuries created in trying to determine the substance of, and precise relationship between, the Father and the Son. As far as the third article goes, the Apostle’s Creed doesn’t ask much from us: “I believe in the Holy Spirit.”
But the Nicene creed says a bit more: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.* ” It continues but we’re stopping there.
That little phrase, “and the Son” – or Filioque in Latin (and as the controversy is known) – divided the Christian church East and West in the Great Schism of 1054. The Greek speaking Eastern church and the Latin speaking Western church have never recovered from it. One word, Filioque, has divided the Christian church for over a thousand years.
It goes back to last week’s conundrum of whether the Son is homoousious, of the same substance with the Father – and therefore co-eternal (begotten, not made), or homoiousious, of similar substance, created as the first of God’s creation (as Wisdom said), and therefore finite – in the sense that he had a beginning but no end. This has implications for the next logical determination of whether the Spirit, the third essence of Trinity, proceeds from the Father, or from the Father and the Son.
Good Lord! It makes my head hurt; and to modern reasonableness, it’s a ridiculous argument. I think if anything, it would speak against the Spirit’s engagement with the whole church enterprise. A disagreement over the illogical necessity of making logos, logical sense, about the correct formulation of God… I mean, talk about hubris! This arrogance that we – any configuration of human minds from any era – can determine the substance and persons of God – and then make that the basis of the Christian church and the standard of belief, is remarkable.
In addition, their logic seems to have fatal flaw. If they are being this literal about the timing and substance, how then were they able to ignore the maternity of this begotten Son? If God the Father begets a co-eternal Son of the same substance… who bore this Being? Begetting is typically in reference to a male bringing forth a child through the process of reproduction – which requires a woman – so, how did this work? How did God bring forth a Son from his own self with no one else involved?
In the old Hebrew Scriptures, Yahweh occasionally had a consort, Ashera. She was also called the Queen of Heaven. But she was edited out by the post-exilic redactors because their mandate was to purify the faith in order to prevent more disasters like Babylon, and a female consort to God Almighty was too close to the pagan religions of their time. There are a few references remaining. Even so, she would be more along the lines of created Wisdom, than a pre-existant mother to the Son of the Father. Are you seeing hints in this reasoning as to why Mary had to be virgin to bear Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God?
If we continue with this search, the Hebrew word for Spirit – ruah – is a feminine noun, and the Syriac Christian church refers to the Holy Spirit as “She”, but before we jump to hopeful conclusions, pneuma, the Greek word, is either neuter or masculine depending on the attending participle. So the Advocate in John’s gospel, the Comforter – are masculine nouns and of no help to the problem of the Son’s begetting.
I’m not trying to destroy your faith, I promise. Although, that might not be a bad thing. In seminary, we were told that our faith was going to be broken. We would get angry and lost and wonder what was left for us to believe in, but that it needed to happen in order for us to open our eyes and see what the Bible really says. We needed to give up on what we thought we believed, what we had learned in the innocence of Sunday School and begin to see the truth of Jesus’ teaching, life and death; to see what happened between his death and burial, and the rest of the New Testament writings that utterly transformed peoples’ lives. We were told we’d have to trust the Holy Spirit to inspire and guide us on paths we could not yet see. I hope the same for you – and please, as always, if you want to talk about this, question me, disagree with me – I would welcome that kind of engagement. I mostly feel like I’m talking to myself up here. Your thoughts – even your anger – would be valuable.
So, back to the Holy Spirit. Let’s leave the Creed and it’s painful logic behind.
Not many of us would expect logos language to make sense of the most mysterious person of God. Mythos is just right: the poetic, resourceful, whimsical, intuitive language that tells the truth of God that is bigger, truer than the words we might assign it.
Psalm 104, verses 24 and 30 are a good place to start:
“How manifold are your works, O Lord! In Wisdom you have made them all: the earth is full of your creatures. You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; and so you renew the face of the earth.”
Song of Solomon: “Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, turn, my beloved, and come to me as a gazelle across the craggy heights.”
Until the day breathes. What a wonderful image. We are very aware of what time the day breathes. 4:38am. The songbirds seem to take one big breath and raise the shade of darkness with their incredible cacophony. It even startles me from sleep. That breath is the breath of God, the rush, wind, spirit, ruah.
The same Spirit of God brooded over the dark primordial ooze of creation, was puffed into nostrils, inflating the lungs of the adamah – the first dustling, and gave Adam life; it comes upon prophets giving them words of judgment, warning and assurance. It comes as wisdom’s inspiration to us more worldly and common folk too, as wisdom/Sophia, in lived and loving advice for others.
God’s spirit/wind/ruah – pnuemo in Greek – spun Nicodemus in circles when he went to see Jesus – born again, born from above – the same thing but seemingly very different.
We are clearly in Mythos language with this third being of God. It is the carbon of sacred things – omnipresent, uniting, bonding, joining, essential for life, invisible, mysterious. It is beyond religion or dogma or doctrine. The great Spirit just is… “I am.” (The self-given name of God).
Perhaps I’m prejudiced, being so entrenched in Christian thought that I’m blind to other faiths, but I think this sense of Spirit is a universal part of most of the world’s religions which might not claim God or a cosmic Christ. If God is an active verb, as you’ve heard before, then the Spirit is that action, the doing of God. The Spirit is the acting force of good, of kindness, of peace, of courage, of love, of healing and wholeness and transformation.
The Holy Spirit came upon the disciples hiding out in their room as flames of fire, it says in Acts. “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
“Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in kingdom of Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’
“All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
“But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women,in those days I will pour out my Spirit..”
It is a gracious word, an inviting, accommodating, creative Spirit at work – not making a new religion, not intending to form a church based on correct dogma, or doctrine, logic and orthodox belief; but a Spirit speaking to and through each as they are able to understand. A Spirit that invites each into fellowship with God, to new life through the teaching and love and compassion of Jesus, the Christ, the human face of God’s way and will and desire for all creatures.
I don’t know what to do with the creed embedded in our liturgy.
I don’t want to maintain meaningless traditions simply for the sake of a tradition we inherited if that is what it has become. On the other hand, I think it’s a good reminder that this faith is not ours; it’s a faith of the whole church – yes, a church with enormous flaws – that struggles to stay relevant in Europe and liberal America, a church that is growing like crazy in parts of Africa. It’s a statement of faith our forebears recited, maybe questioned, maybe loved and relied upon – those holy ghosts that kneel beside us completing the circle of communion out beyond our walls. It’s a statement of the faith our descendants may need to hear because they don’t know the stories, they don’t come to church, don’t dust the Bible under their bed, but still need some mythos to provide a story bigger than their conjuring, bigger than their personal, selfie-documented narrative, bigger than their sorrow or their joy or their need.
It’s a statement of faith I don’t always believe in, but it’s also a recitation whose point I trust to be true in the poetic, whimsical, playful way of the Spirit – that God has come to us for love, for life, for a future and fellowship with the saints surrounding us; that God came through Mary’s “Yes”, and Jesus’ life, and through Pontius Pilate – unbeknownst to him, and even through death. It is a statement of the God, seen and unseen, whom I try to see like warblers in the woods, try to follow and please. I want to make God happy, to give God something to smile about once in a while instead of school shootings to weep over. Maybe stretching and compressing my faith into a set form and thinking about the content of belief is something that pleases God. Who knows?
In our wandering and wondering about the personage of God and the substance of faith, may we be blessed, guided and gifted by this form of Trinity – Growth, Grace, and Mystery.