The Holy Spirit’s Fiery Desire

outsideSupper1What is the Holy Spirit? Wrong question.  The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity, not an ït.” Our difficulty in thinking of the Holy Spirit as a person is a symptom of our cultural problem of really seeing other persons as persons.

“Many terms and images are given for the Holy Spirit: a roaring wind, tongues of fire, breath, gift, counselor, consoler, teacher, guide, and the bond of love, to list a few. Some of the terms are personal, some not. This only adds to the confusion unless we get beneath the impersonal images to realize that breath requires a breather, a person’s temperament can be fiery, and a bond of love can’t really love unless that bond is a person who actually loves. Teaching and guiding, though done with personal agency, can be mechanical if they are only conveying information and or getting us from one place to another.

The Holy Spirit adds to our difficulty simply by being so shy. Jesus shows us the Father, the Holy Spirit shows us Jesus. Who shows us the Holy Spirit? Look behind you and the Holy Spirit is still behind you. Look deeply in yourself and the Holy Spirit is deeper yet. If we want to know the Holy Spirit, we have to be as shy, as hidden as this Person. Most of us think it important to be more assertive than that.

Perhaps the Holy Spirit is hidden in much the same way as mimetic desire is hidden. (See Human See, Human Want.) Our imitation of other peoples ‘desires occurs below our conscious awareness. The Holy Spirit does the same. Is there a connection between the two? As our teacher and guide, the Holy Spirit conveys the Desire of God.  More than that, the Holy Spirit is the Desire of God. What is this Desire of God? The image of a fiery wind burning all of God’s people without consuming us gives us a hint of God’s fundamental Desire: that we all may be one as the Father and the Son are one. (There is the Holy Spirit hiding again! The Spirit is just as much one with the Father and the Son as the other two Persons of the Trinity.)

Let us try thinking of the Holy Spirit as the Gatherer with fiery arms of Love. Mimetic desire unites us with other people whether we like it or not, or will it or not. Mimetic desire deepens our lives when we share desires in mutually enriching ways, but when mimetic desire falls into conflict, it unites us to that person in the bad sense of being stuck together.  The Holy Spirit weaves through the swirl of other peoples’ desire with God’s Desire, teaching us and guiding us with fiery love how to fill all these desires between us with tongues of fire that deepen our communion with others beyond what words can say.

Two Ways of Gathering

A strange gathering of devout Jews from every nation took place a little over two thousand years ago in Jerusalem. These Jews were bewildered to hear a group of Galileans speaking in each of their languages. A new and exciting gift of understanding was unfolding in their midst. In their perplexity some thought the Galileans were drunk.

Peter explains this strange gathering by telling his fellow Israelites about a very different gathering that had taken place just a few weeks earlier where everybody conspired to crucify an innocent man. The Pharisees, Sadducees and the Roman authorities, constantly at loggerheads about just about everything, suddenly and miraculously came to an agreement to put Jesus to death.

Peter goes on to say that this man was “handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” and killed “by the hands of those outside the law.” That Jesus was killed unjustly, by those outside the law, indicates that God’s plan and foreknowledge should not be equated with God’s will. To the contrary, Peter insists that the execution of Jesus was contrary to God’s will. Peter’s next announcement was even more startling: “God raised him up, having freed him from death.” The risen victim, “sitting at the right hand of God” has poured out the Holy Spirit that everybody was seeing and hearing. In declaring that the crucified and risen Jesus was the Messiah, Peter was claiming that a radically new understanding of life was being given through the Holy Spirit.

Quotations from the psalms that accompany the apostolic preaching indicate that the story of people at enmity making peace by agreeing to persecute a person is then blamed for the discord in the community is actually an old story. The opening verses of Psalm two express this old story succinctly: “Why did the Gentiles rage . . . . the rulers have gathered together against the Lord and against his Messiah.” Children do the same thing on the playground every day.

What was truly strange about the gathering by the Holy Spirit was that people were being gathered without creating a victim. Instead, the victim of just a few weeks past has risen from the dead to gather God’s people in a radically new way based on sharing God’s love for every person.

 Tools for Peace explores how Benedictine spirituality helps us live in the gathering in the risen forgiving victim.