When love comes to town, I’m gonna jump that train.
When love comes to town, I’m gonna catch that flame. ---B.B. King and Bono
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Where charity and love are, God is there.
What happens when the Holy Spirit shows up? Technically, we are taught that the Spirit of God does not have to show up. We “live, move and have our being” in the very presence of God, (Acts 17:28) even when we are strolling down the aisle of the grocery store trying to find those coupons that we stuck somewhere. The issue is never about whether or not God is present to us, but really more about how present we can be to God in any given moment. However, there are moments when we invite a special sense of God’s presence. What happens then? That kind of question seemed academic until Saturday.
Saturday was the day of my ordination. I spent the afternoon of the day before ordination with the other ordinand and our Bishop. The Bishop sure had a lot to say about the Holy Spirit showing up on Saturday. That made me a bit nervous. What would happen? Would I end up experiencing something akin to a white-collar version of the wild antics on those late night televised religious broadcasts? Would I be suddenly possessed, or feel something unusual? Or worse, would I end up suddenly asking everyone for a love offering?
There are two things that Jesus taught about the Divine Spirit that would almost seem to be in tension with each other. The first is that the Spirit of God is as mysterious and unpredictable as the wild desert wind that whips up fierce sandstorms out of nothing and then disappears into the calm. In fact, the very words employed in the Scriptures to name the Spirit, both in the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament, are words that are related to the wind. “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) We cannot tame or predict the Spirit of God. We cannot manipulate or bend the presence of God to our will. The life-giving Spirit can no more be tamed than the primeval gale forces blowing across the face of the deep in the Hebrew creation narrative. (Gen. 1:2) On the other hand, once we come to understand that we cannot tame or direct the force of the Spirit, we hear the words of Jesus, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13) We cannot make the Spirit show up any more that we can create a hurricane, but all we have to do is ask. The Spirit is not manufactured, purchased or in any way earned. The Spirit is gift and grace, just like everything else with our exuberantly generous God! All we can do is ask, and ask we did.
We belted out a sung invitation, “Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire, and lighten with celestial fire.” I felt my knees lock up and my eyes widen as I looked around, half expecting to see something materialize the way people it did in the transporter room of the classic Star Trek. Everyone was dressed up in red (which every liturgical Christian knows is the Holy Spirit’s favorite color) and everyone was singing. When I knelt down for the Bishop to place his hands on me, I took a deep breath…
I wish I could tell you that I felt an electric shock go down my spine or a heated light glowing around my head as a tongue of flame danced above me. I did not. Instead, what I experienced was much deeper and warmer. Instead of focusing the attention on me, she focused my attention on everyone else.
I can only describe my experience as being overwhelmed with a profound sense of deep gratitude and warmth for everyone who had walked along the way with me to that point---those who were in the Cathedral and those who were not; those who are still alive and those who have passed. They were all with me, or rather I should say, I was present to them at that point and I loved them.
That sense of connected gratitude and love only grew during the Holy Eucharist. People from my past, present and future began to come forward to share in the sacred feast that Jesus said was intimately connected to his body. St. Paul declared, “You are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27) The Bible teaches that Jesus is raised from the dead and has become a living people. We eat the bread and have a share in that body. We drink the wine and his very lifeblood connects us and flows through us and makes us alive to God. We are the incarnation, sent into the world to become his hands and feet on the same mission that he had: to give away the extravagant love of God and touch the outcast and heal the broken. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:21b-22)
One by one they came forward and one by one I began to see the vast connected network of the body of Christ. I loved them, every one, and that was the moment that I realized the Holy Spirit had shown up. The fruit of the Holy Spirit begins with love. (Galatians 5:22) St. Paul taught that without love all other manifestations of the Spirit are meaningless (1.Corinthians 13:1-3) because “God is love”, inseparably. (1 John 4:8) It is the very DNA of the incarnation. Love is the animating Spirit that moves the living body of Christ. I came to understand that the Holy Spirit’s presence was not about me, but about getting me to turn outward toward everyone else. My ordination and Holy Orders ---none of it was simply for me. A warm wind of love showed up at my ordination, and all we had to do was ask. All we have to do is ask.