Discerning the Spirit

In a spiritual reflection for Pentecost Sunday Richard Rohr says, “Pentecost is actually every day, if we expect it; but, not surprisingly, this is the greatest forgotten major festival of the entire church year.”

Some of the reason for its neglect may be intentional, because talk of the Holy Spirit is always a bit mystifying to some people. Some of this, I think, is due to the way we have tried to describe the Spirit in our Trinitarian formulations. The Spirit in both the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament is another way of talking about God’s presence and activity in the world. God engages creation and particularly human beings through the Divine Spirit.

For Christians, the Spirit’s major task is to reveal Christ. In the Gospel reading for Pentecost Sunday Jesus says, “He (the Spirit of Truth) will glorify me because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:14). The function of the Spirit in the Christian community is to make Christ known. But not in the sense of dispensing information about Christ. Information does very little to convert us. The function of the Spirit is to make Christ known on an intimate, personal, relational, and communal level in a way that is transformational.

We sometimes pray, “Send the Holy Spirit,” or “May Your Spirit fall fresh on us,” and what we are asking for is a fresh sense of God’s presence or renewed spiritual strength and empowerment. There’s nothing wrong with these prayers, except that they could leave the impression that we do not have the Spirit and need to get the Spirit, or that the Spirit comes and goes. We all have the Spirit all the time, and we have all the Spirit we can get. The problem is on the human side. Are we in touch and communion with the Spirit that is within us and all about us?

You see, it’s not a matter of God giving us something we already have (a relationship with God); it’s a matter of our being aligned and in harmony with the Spirit, so that the Spirit can fill us and empower us. We are all children of God and we all have the Spirit, but not all of us have claimed our “belovedness” as God’s children and not all of us are being led by the Spirit.

The fruit of the Spirit is evident to any one with just a small amount of spiritual discernment. Paul put it this way in his letter to the Galatians: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (5:22). He goes on to say (5:24) that the one who is led by the Spirit has “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (that is, he has put to death the little ego-driven self that is prideful, greedy, and arrogant; that seeks fulfillment in position, power, prestige, and possessions). Paul says “that against such things (the Spirit filled and Spirit led life) there is no law” (5:22). The one who is led by the Spirit does not need a bunch of commandments to follow, because she or he will always respond in a loving, compassionate, good, kind, and just way.

What better time than the season of Pentecost to learn more about the role of the Spirit in our lives and most of all, to align ourselves to the Spirit, so that we can experience and live the Christ-life.


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