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From your Vicar - Page 1
This past week in the Church of England calendar we have celebrated Pentecost: the day that marked the birth of the church when the Holy Spirit first came down upon the disciples. It’s safe to say that since that time in the life of the Church, the person of the Holy Spirit has often been ignored, neglected or feared in the church.
What do you think of when you think about the Holy Spirit?
In the Old Testament the word we translate as ‘Spirit’ comes from a Hebrew word ruach which is also translated in various places as ‘wind’, ‘storm’ or ‘breath’. So for example at the beginning of the bible in the story of creation it says, “In the beginning·God created·the heavens·and the earth …·and the Spirit (ruach) of God·was hovering·over the waters (Genesis 1).” Other translations, like the NRSV which we read in St John’s, say “while a wind from God·swept over the face of the waters”.
This word ruach is also described as the breath of God that breathed new life into the dry bones in the famous Ezekiel vision in chapter 37: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath [ruach] enter you, and you will come to life” (Ezekiel 37:14, Good News Translation – most other translations use the word ‘spirit’)
Likewise in the New Testament – written in the Greek language - we get a similar idea. The word for ‘spirit’ is ‘pneuma’ – which is where we get pneumatic from – this too can be translated as ‘wind’ or ‘breath.’
It is well worth pondering on this imagery as it can be extremely helpful in helping us understand the Holy Spirit.
St John the Baptist
Serving God and the Community of Leytonstone for 180 years
From your Vicar - Page 2
Breath of course is the sign of life. When I go into my children to check up on them just before I go to bed, sometimes they are so still in their sleep I wander for a second if they are alive, so I put my hand to their mouth and feel their breath on my skin. When I sense their breath or see them breathing I know that of course they are well and healthy – just sound asleep! As breath is the sign of life, it is important to remember that God’s Spirit is the ultimate source of all life.
But perhaps the more thought provoking imagery is that of ‘wind’. If we think about wind, wind carries with it a sense of power. Wind can be a powerful force in the world and in some parts of the world turn people’s lives upside down.
Wind is also an invisible quality: you can’t see wind, but you can see and hear its effects. Neither can we cause wind to happen (okay you can turn on a fan, but it’s not really the same thing) or control it. The wind seems to ‘blow where it pleases’.
These ideas tell us a lot about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the power of God at work in the world. And God’s power can turn around lives and situations in dramatic ways - while you cannot see it, you get often see the effects. Also like wind, God’s Spirit cannot be controlled or fenced in or turned on and turned off. However, like the wind it can be caught. If you have a sailing boat, you hoist up your sails in order to catch the wind. Moreover, everything about a sailing boat is geared towards capturing the wind: the height of the mast, shape of the hull, the width of the sail.
From your Vicar - Page 3
Just like a sailing boat, so too can we ‘catch the Spirit’. The challenge for us is to shape our lives as vessels to most effectively catch the Spirit at work so our lives and our churches can be filled with the ‘wind of God’ powering us along in all that we do.
Today we live in this ‘age of the Spirit’. Let us therefore pray for God’s Holy Spirit to fill the sails of our lives so that we can be vessels of his good news in the world.