Could the Spirit's love be poured into the hearts of people untouched by the incarnation? Could non-Christians be lovers of the only God there is?
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.
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.
We need to be reminded, as we celebrate Pentecost, that the Spirit is always much bigger and more "other" than we normally think.
After an attempted coup in Indonesia in 1965, headlines reported that 500,000 people were killed. What did not make the headlines was the quiet revolution that began as the wind of the Spirit began to move into a collapsed intellectual and moral vacuum. There was no ballyhoo or promotion, but simply the response of untold numbers who found in the churches a haven.
"When the Counselor comes!" What was Jesus trying to tell us? His words came after an embarrassing incident. When none of us disciples was willing to wash someone else's feet, Jesus did it. Our rabbi and leader. Not until much later would we understand what he was doing; on that night we could only listen and try to make sense of his words.