Sunday, June 08, 2014

Spirit, Pentecost and the real existence of relationships

Glory in the heavens (well 36,000ft after SFO)
It’s an odd feeling spending most of the day of Pentecost in the heavens. I’ve been to Palo Alto and then Boston, and have to fly during the day.

As always when you read the Bible new things strike you. This time I noticed that Acts 2 begins, literally: “And in the together-fulfillment (sumplērousthai) of the day of Pentecost” which conveys so much more than “When the day or Pentecost was come” and that Jesus in John 15 says explicitly that he will send the spirit “who proceeds from the Father.”

What I want to try to write about is the real existence of love and relationships. We tend to think of things and individuals as primary and the relationships between them as secondary but the reality is more subtle and complex. It turns out that (almost) everything we think of as a thing can also be thought of as a number of component “things” in relationship with each other. For example if people are “nothing but” their bodies then our bodies are “nothing but” the cells and fluids, which are in turn “nothing but” their molecules, atoms and electrons etc…

But a moment’s reflection shows that this is nonsense. In order to begin to understand any “thing” we need to see it in relation to many other “things” in a number of different systems. If we focus on one level/aspect of this for a particular purpose we need to recognise that this focus is an approximation to a much more subtle and multi-layered reality. Indeed for most purposes it is largely irrelevant what the components of a system are made of – all that matters is how they interact with others in the system. The nature of their interactions is as real as the components themselves.

The reality of relationships reaches its apotheosis in the Trinity. The relationship between the Father and the Son is so real that it is the Holy Spirit which is a con-substantial and co-eternal part of the perfect unity of God. The Bible speaks of the Spirit of the Messiah (Christ) and the Spirit of God and the Love of God being poured into our hearts pretty well interchangeably. The fact is that, to the extent that God’s loving Spirit dwells in us we are caught up into the reality of the loving relationship that is at the heart of God. In Hebrew and Greek ruach and pneuma mean wind, spirit and breath.
The wind is not the air, it is the movement of the air.
And so of course is heat: the tongues of fire
Are whipped up by the wind that’s the dynamic love of God
To spread his love and strengthen and inspire. 
 We’re about to come to land but I’ll conclude with the great poem by George Herbert that was used as an anthem at Elder Grandson’s Confirmation on Tuesday. They didn’t give the title and cut a couple of verses. I think to a significant extent Herbert’s prayer is being answered, as the Gospel spreads throughout the world. So praying for all those Christians who witness to their faith inspired by the Spirit of Love and Truth, and for unity – Lord, bless especially the relationship between Archbishop Justin and Pope Francis – here is: Whitsunday
   Listen sweet Dove unto my song,
     And spread thy golden wings in me;
     Hatching my tender heart so long,
Till it get wing, and flie away with thee.

     Where is that fire which once descended
     On thy Apostles? thou didst then
     Keep open house, richly attended,
Feasting all comers by twelve chosen men.

     Such glorious gifts thou didst bestow,
     That th’ earth did like a heav’n appeare;
     The starres were coming down to know
If they might mend their wages, and serve here.

     The sunne, which once did shine alone,
     Hung down his head, and wisht for night,
     When he beheld twelve sunnes for one
Going about the world, and giving light.

     But since those pipes of gold, which brought
     That cordiall water to our ground,
     Were cut and martyr’d by the fault
Of those, who did themselves through their side wound,

     Thou shutt’st the doore, and keep’st within;
     Scarce a good joy creeps through the chink:
     And if the braves of conqu’ring sinne
Did not excite thee, we should wholly sink.

     Lord, though we change, thou art the same;
     The same sweet God of love and light:
     Restore this day, for thy great name,
Unto his ancient and miraculous right.

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