As we come almost to the end of the prayer bead strand (or simply prayers, if you aren’t using the bead), we pray, “By the power of the Holy Spirit.” The bead that symbolizes the Holy Spirit is iridescent red: the flames of Pentecost. It is a pretty simply thing to let those words fall glibly off our tongues. After all, the Holy Spirit seems rather benign and pleasant. If you are familiar with John 14, you know that Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as Comforter, Helper and Teacher. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit binds together the Church, the faith community, in relationship.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if the Holy Spirit functioned in a way that really got our attention? Sky-writing would be nice. So would voices or a text or Etch-A-Sketch. And how exactly does the Holy Spirit help and teach and bind together and create? Magic?
Our lectionary readings are helpful. In Matthew, Peter has the aha! moment of naming Jesus as Messiah. In Romans 12, Paul exhorts us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds and to use our spiritual gifts to build up the church. In Exodus, we hear the story of Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives. Interestingly enough, the Holy Spirit isn’t named explicitly. The Holy Spirit works behind the scenes. You have to read between the lines to see the Holy Spirit at work, giving new insights and new understandings, giving spiritual gifts, reconciling brothers and sisters in Christ, birthing newness and creation. Often, in life, to see the Holy Spirit at work, you have to read between the lines.
The reading from Exodus tells us how the Holy Spirit works. There is a new king in town and life has changed. In a completely self-defeating and irrational move, the king decrees that all the Hebrew boy babies must be killed. The midwives, however, are determined to let new life come into the world; determined not to impede God’s new creation. They know that in the beginning, God’s Spirit hovered over the waters, bringing creation out of chaos. They are determined to let that happen.
I believe that the Holy Spirit works by birthing newness into our lives. That is what Jesus told Nicodemeus in John 3: You must be born from above. That is what John Wesley called our new birth or justification: when we recognize the error of our ways and embrace God’s newness and life. My experience is that God’s birthing process is much like an actual birth process. It is a long process. There is grief involved as we recognize that our lives will never be the same. There is a sense of being out of control. God’s birthing process, like birth itself, can elicit fear and result in pain. There is hard work involved. It is messy. In God’s time, there is also new creation and new life.
We, of course, get to decide if we are going to open ourselves to God’s birthing process or if we are, like the king, going to choose self-defeating and irrational obstruction that makes new birth impossible.
I have told Jeff that I have the best job in the world. I am continually invited to go deeper into my understanding of what it means to follow Jesus, deeper into self-awareness, deeper into spiritual maturity. However, when I am feeling squeezed or pressured or pushed in God’s birthing process, I can whine like a baby! It takes courage to open ourselves to the new life and new creation of the Spirit! It takes guts!
Hemingway said that guts equals grace under pressure. It takes guts to embrace God’s birthing process. Holy Spirit guts.
So what is happening in your life right now that smacks of change and newness? What is happening in the life of our church right now that looks like God doing something new?
Read between the lines. God is present and working to birth something new in you and around you.
By the power of the Holy Spirit.
On the journey with you,