I once went on a blind date. He was a law student, a friend of a friend, and I was a seminarian. We met for drinks.
He was nice, funny. He was a self-identifying Christian--the first one, actually, I had ever gone out with. We were talking about our chosen professions; he was, as many are, fascinated by the idea of a call to ministry. My call story is not exactly dramatic, but it has a social justice edge, forged on youth group mission trips and in researching poverty. “I want to make the world a better place,” I told the date.
The future lawyer looked at me and asked, “But isn’t the world a fallen place?”
With every cycle of our respiratory systems, we are sustained by the same intimate inspiration God exhaled into Adam’s muddy lungs. That breath permeates every cell of our being, nose to toes, invigorating our bodies and minds and souls until it is ready to be released, silently, from the same nostrils through which it came.
This is as ordinary as oxygen and carbon dioxide, and as extraordinary as spirit and miracle.
“I am haunted by waters.” These are the last words of Norman Maclean’s novella A River Runs Through It. Waters haunt all of us who profess the Christian faith. The human imagination is consumed with images of water, and rightly so. Our bodies are made up of water. If we fail to drink, or if we are prevented from drinking, we will expire.
What happens to a person when the Holy Spirit descends like a tongue of fire? In Acts, those present were filled with the Holy Spirit. We all long for this. We all seek fulfillment. I saw this once when I was conducting a spiritual retreat for members of various 12-step groups. Each person spoke powerfully about how the pain of emptiness in his life had led him down wayward paths. Each had discovered that “you can never get enough of that which will not satisfy.”
The closest I get to the kind of religious experience the apostle Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 12 is the occasional Sunday when the music and the congregation merge in worship that is unrestrained praise. I especially enjoy communion, since the Eucharist itself is designed to anticipate heaven. With our sins confessed and forgiven, peace made and prayers prayed, we experience an unusual unity with God and with each other. It’s a taste of paradise.