This We Believe–Brief Statement of Faith part 4

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We trust in God the Holy Spirit,
everywhere the giver and renewer of life.
The Spirit justifies us by grace through faith,
sets us free to accept ourselves and to love God and neighbor,
and binds us together with all believers
in the one body of Christ, the church.
The same Spirit
who inspired the prophets and apostles
rules our faith and life in Christ through Scripture,
engages us through the Word proclaimed,
claims us in the waters of baptism,
feeds us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation,
and calls women and men to all ministries of the church.
In a broken and fearful world
the Spirit gives us courage
to pray without ceasing,
to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior,
to unmask idolatries in church and culture,
to hear the voices of peoples long silenced,
and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.

The Holy Spirit is often the left-out member of the Trinity, the third wheel no one understands and no one wants around. Poor Spirit, always ephemeral and moving and hard to pin down…and so left to flutter around undiscussed and uncared for. Mainline Protestants are particularly susceptible to this problem, because God the Creator and God the Son are so easy to grasp (relatively speaking!) and God the Spirit is mysterious and vague…she defies categorization and definition and boxing in, so instead we choose to leave her out altogether.

Before we go too far–we often talk about the Holy Spirit as “she.” This is because the Hebrew word for Spirit, ruach, is a feminine noun (and it also means “breath” or “wind”), so the matching pronoun is also feminine. In addition, the Spirit is often conflated with Wisdom (from Proverbs 8), who is anthropomorphized as a woman. So to talk about the Spirit as “she” is drawing on the oldest parts of our tradition, the Hebrew Bible.

So: who is this Spirit, and what does she do?

In Scripture, the Spirit is present at Creation, hovering over the waters, present as the breath breathed into the first humans, is the wind and breath that comes from the four corners of the earth in Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37), descends on Jesus at his baptism, blows through the disciples’ upper room on Pentecost bringing tongues of fire and many spiritual gifts that draw the community together…in other words, she’s all over the place, moving in and among and through God’s people.

The Brief Statement reflects this movement, this animation, by calling the Spirit “The giver and renewer of life.” Since Spirit and Breath are the same word, some theologians have talked about the Spirit literally as God’s Breath, the animating life force of all creation–if God had not breathed life into creation, it would be just dry and lifeless.

The Spirit we see in Scripture–the one bringing life out of death, communication where there was only confusion, lighting the way–this same Spirit is the one we believe moves when we read the word. The Spirit is what brings the word to life, allowing us to encounter the Living Word through the scriptures. This is one reason many churches will pray before reading the Bible–a prayer for illumination asks the Spirit to move that we might hear God’s word afresh for our time and place. It is the Spirit who inSPIRes (get it?) preaching and prayer and singing and sacraments. In other words, if our life as a congregation is not infused with the Holy Spirit, we’re missing something!

The end of this section is my favorite: the Spirit gives us courage to…do all kinds of things. We do not do these things on our own, we don’t employ our own willpower and get things done, we can’t save the world by ourselves. The Spirit gives us courage. The list of gifts given by the Holy Spirit (which you can find by combining the first half of 1 Corinthians 12 with Romans 12) doesn’t explicitly include courage, though it does include faith–that’s right, faith is a gift given by the Spirit!–as well as teaching, preaching, encouragement, administration, etc. I like the idea that our courage to pray without ceasing, our courage to stand up and challenge the status quo, our courage to lift up voices of the oppressed…all of that courage comes from the Holy Spirit. That tells me that courage is a gift for which we can pray. We don’t have to pray for “someone to do something,” instead we pray for the courage to do something. We don’t pray only for God to bring justice, freedom, and peace, we pray for the courage to make justice, freedom, and peace a reality in our world, that our world may begin to look more like the kingdom of God.

Most importantly, understanding a little bit about the Holy Spirit helps us realize that we are never alone. God the Spirit is as close to us as our breath–literally flowing in and out, bringing life in every moment. No wonder we are able to be an answer to God’s prayers–we aren’t just made in the image of God, God lives in us, and in every living thing–the animating life force of all of creation. And just as the Spirit inspired the prophets and apostles, she inspires us too. May we follow in their footsteps.

What do you believe about the Holy Spirit? Does she ever just leave you confused, wondering why we have 3-in-1 anyway? Have you ever experienced the movement of the Holy Spirit in your life? 

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