Monday, May 16, 2005

Pentecost

Chris T. has commented that his favorite church celebration was yesterday, that being Pentecost, the yearly recognition of the Holy Spirit descending with tongues of fire on the disciples in Acts 2. Many also call this moment the founding of the church, although the text does not explicitly lend itself to such an interpretation. Instead, church tradition recognizes it as such, but I'm not going to make too big a fuss over that. Some also believe that before this moment the Holy Spirit was not in the world, which is also debateable even in scripture. The Spirit of God moves over the primordial waters in Genesis 1 and breathes new life into the dry bones in Ezekiel 37. Plus there is some discrepancy as to when and how exactly the disciples 'receive' the Spirit (contrast John 20 with Acts 2, for instance).

In addition, Chris laments that Pentecost is not regarded with as much flare as Christmas or Easter (I'm not sure how many people would have even worn red yesterday had I not said something the Sunday before). I replied that Christmas and Easter are more popular first in part because they have so much commercialism caked up around them, and second in part because they’re Jesus-focused. Beyond the centrality of Jesus to Christian tradition, Jesus is easier to imagine because he was human. So we gather around a baby in a manger and a dying bloodied mess on a cross because they are, to varying degrees, easier to relate to. We can at least portray these events, however inaccurately, through our own thoughts and actions. And I'll forego a rant about a tendency to skip all the stuff that Jesus did in between.

The Holy Spirit? What’s that? How to imagine or portray such a thing except through indirect means. We can either speak of the HS in terms of the Pentecost story because it involves a human component or through symbols such as fire, water, or breath. Due to its intangible nature we cannot for certain say, ‘Look, here is the Holy Spirit,’ all by itself. We attach the Holy Spirit to something else in order to make some sense of it.

So Happy Pentecost, a day late. I don't know that anyone in the history of the world has ever said Happy Pentecost, but I hope that yours was.

2 comments:

Ben said...

Jeff,
I'm sure that you've seen this analogy used elsewhere, but I'll repeat it because I feel it helps me understand the nature of the Trinity.

The three forms of God are Father, Son, and +Holy Spirit. These can be compared to the 3 phases of water, namely liquid, solid (ice), and vapor, respectively. All three can be found in nature, and all are quite powerful given the chance.

Liquid water (compared to God) is neccessary to sustain life and nourish our bodies. Water in liquid phase can be quite destructive (see also floods, tidal waves, erosion).

Ice is tangible, I can hold it in the palm of my hand. It doesn't slip through my fingers like liquid. Similarly, people could (and did!) reach out and touch Jesus. If water freezes in a rock fissure, it will expand and aggravate the crack to the point of rupture (as Jesus promised to bring down the temple, so may the freezing of water create potholes everywhere).

Finally, water vapor (steam to my non-science friends) is practically everywhere, much like the Holy Spirit. The power of steam is undeniable: when evaporated, one drop of water will expand to 400 times the original volume.

Water's parallels with the Trinity can be expounded further than I have done so here, but it's really no wonder that water is mentioned so often in the Gospels. The fact is that it was quite a precious commodity in ancient Jerusalem (being in the desert).

I guess that's my answer to the question as to how one relates the Holy Spirit to the other parts of the Trinity.
God's love,
Ben

Jeff said...

Hi Ben. I have indeed heard the water analogy before, though not to the extent that you have shared here. Where this analogy falls short is that it is basically a form of what is called 'modalism,' that is, the trinity thought in terms of God taking the form of Father at one point, then Son at another, then Spirit at another. God is not all three at once, God is just in a different mode depending on the moment. Water as liquid, solid, and gas runs into the same trouble.

However, you qualified in your introduction that it helps you understand the 'nature of the trinity,' which is all analogies can do. We'll go blind trying to explain every nuance of how such a belief works on a metaphysical level.

I was actually thinking about the trinity the other day, and will post some thoughts later.