Today (Sunday, 12 June 2011) is what the Christian church calls Pentecost, a name which no doubt brings up "holy roller" images for some, but really (without going into the whole history of it: it derives from the culminating day of a holy season described in the Hebrew scriptures) refers to a foundational event in Christianity, which as it happened took place on that day. The scene (see the New Testament book of Acts, 2nd chapter) describes God pouring out his Spirit, his very presence, on a group of Christians.
And then they became holy rollers! Not really. Actually, again without going into all the details, the main point was to show that the presence of God is as close and available as a best friend, wanting to give the strength and encouragement that only a best friend or life partner can give, to bring some daylight on a gloomy morning, to be the veritable breath of fresh air or wind under our wings as only someone that close can do. It's worth noting, by the way, that the words rendered "spirit" (in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures) also mean "wind" and "breath": God as a breath like the wind fresh off the sea, like an updraft that sets birds soaring over the heights.
And that close encounter with the Divine is really what is behind the expression, "if the spirit [or Spirit] moves you". Of course, today we can take that as casually as getting a sudden hankering for a hot fudge sundae (though, personally, I don't see how that is not probably God moving you), but originally it had to do with that encounter with God's presence. And that was never meant as some sort of spiritual elitism, or as if only some "ascended" person could encounter that! The whole point was God dumping himself out on anyone and everyone who would let him, maybe if you picture something like Mom or Dad jumping on the kids and all of them rolling gleefully in a pile of leaves, or making a big happy splashy thrash in the pool. A peristent theme through the scriptures is that, even though there may be those whose special calling is to help others understand and encounter the Divine for themselves, really there was never meant to be any spiritual "elite"; in a very real sense, all people were always meant to jump into that gleeful romp with God, everyone is meant (and able) to have) that personal encounter.
So when the Spirit moves, what does he do with all our boxes and baggage? And do we end up like the impoverished Dust Bowl people in the photo above, trying to bundle our ramshackle lives together and scramble toward the promised west? Some religious expressions or traditions seem to give the impression that God is sort of like a train conductor, maybe rather impatiently checking his watch ("Come on, people, we have to keep this Glory Train to Heaven on schedule!"), while we fumble and stagger around on the platform with all our luggage. "Aha", some people might nod knowingly, "the key to life is to discard all our unwanted baggage." Yeah, well, what if you accidentally dump the wrong bag, that has all your clean underwear in it? Or should the poor people in the photo have just dumped even the shabby remnants of their lives and made a run for it? What I mean is, it's one thing to think, "How wonderful! A personal encounter with God is avaiable to anyone [which it is]!"; but it's quite another to ask, "But what about my actual life? The one I have to live in, every day. And the one which, even if it's only tattered remnants, is all I have to remember loved ones or places now lost. The one that has love and heartache and blessing and burdens all piled together, and barely held together with twine as I try to make it beyond that far horizon. My life is all of me. What about that?"
That is where, if you hadn't noticed, the God who loves you enough to stay by your side is also working gently to sort through the things that are actually important to you, the things that are really a part of you, and other things that really are stuff you could stand to leave aside (like "the heartache that gets in the way of sweet memories", or "the weight on your heart that keeps you from lifting your head to see the sunrise"). (If you're like me, sometimes without realizing it you can be putting those things back on the luggage rack, not realizing they were slipping off because I really would be happier without them, let alone that it was God who was trying to help unburden me a bit. There is such a thing as being too efficient of a packer.)
The God who is with us. Actually, that's also one of Jesus' various names: Immanu-el, God with us, the God who is really there. Most faiths or belief systems do a lot of serious thinking to try to grasp the concept of the Divine; but in one way or another, at the heart of it all that thinking reflects some sort of innate draw to actually encounter the Divine, no matter by what name people think of that. And God as best friend, as life partner, as confidant, as strength and encourager and wind under our wings and fresh breath filling our lungs and heart: this is at the very heart of what Jesus wanted us to know, of what the whole Bible is about really (if you look between all the episodes of chaos and violence, that is really the consistent theme that is trying to be heard over the din), of what I see as the voice and heart of God to all peoples through all time is always trying to say. Like the sunrise that can enable everyone to see which way to go (or what baggage to pack!), this is the God who is with us, as near as breath.
And the Spirit moving us? He wants to move us closer to him, closer to one another, closer to the fulfillment of all the potential that is designed into us, like a tree growing to full height or a field in full blossom. He moves us closer to the promise of all we were intended to be, because he himself moves close to us. Breathe deep: that fresh wind in your face is him drawing close enough to kiss you.
About TCL Blog
We’re not about Dogma here. We’re just Christians who think the political and Christian right-wing have their priorities wrong.
Charles Toy is the founding member of The Christian Left. We're sure you will enjoy his passion as well as his wit. Guest bloggers featured often.