Sunday, May 14, 2023 | Julie Stuckey
Right now, as you read this, the Earth’s atmosphere is pressing on your body with the pressure equivalent of 30 feet of water. We call it “atmospheric pressure,” but all that air up there presses down on your body at all times. We think of fish as living in a fluid. They live in water. When we enter the water, we see it clearly. We don’t see air. We only really feel it, mostly when it moves. In still air, we can easily forget that we live at the bottom of a many miles deep well of nitrogen, oxygen, and a few other things. Walking on the Earth’s surface, the whole gaseous fluid atmosphere stretches above us, and its weight press down on us. Hot air balloons rise in air for the same reason that submarines can rise back up from the depths of the oceans. In a fluid (liquid or gas), increase buoyancy and up you come. I may never get to ask a fish, but I bet that they don’t think that they live in a fluid either. They’re built for it and don’t feel lit. We’re built for it and don’t notice it. This gaseous fluid constitutes the fabric of our existence and easily recedes into the background – largely unnoticed.
I suspect that we treat the presence of God in the same way. I entitled this column after my own relative ignorance. I grew up in church, went at least once a week my whole life, and, until, arriving at seminary, had managed to miss a huge chunk of what the faith means. Chief among this ignorance was my understanding of the Holy Spirit. In short, I didn’t. I knew about a Trinity that includes the Holy Spirit. I memorized and repeated the Apostles’ Creed, where I claimed to the believe in it. I sang the Gloria Patri, where I gloried the Holy Spirit. I knew that something called the Holy Spirit somehow connected to the idea of God. Maybe, I knew that Pentecost fit into this Holy Spirit picture somehow, but I may be giving my past self too much credit. I certainly didn’t know what the Holy Spirit did. God the Father created everything. Christ died and rose for my salvation. The Holy Spirit? It was there too?
All of the John 13-17 arc shows Jesus preparing the Disciples for his two rounds of imminent departures – crucifixion and ascension. Here, in John 14:15-21, we get introduced to how the Disciples and, in turn, all of us, can stay connected to God, once Christ departs this realm of existence. We get an Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit. With this aspect of God moving in our world, everyone will stay connected together.
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. (John 14:16-20 NRSV)
The Holy Spirit will be always with us preventing us from being orphaned from Christ and thus, to God. A member of God’s triune unity literally abides with us and forms the fabric of our reality.
This draws out the true level of my previous ignorance. The Holy Spirit abides with us and connects us to God. The way that we know and experience God at all emanates from the work of the Spirit. When we receive strength, guidance, comfort, abilities, insight from God, the Holy Spirit serves as the medium of exchange. The people that God sends into our lives to guide and care do so at the behest of the Holy Spirit.
In my first confirmation class that I taught, we had a running joke. To a good chunk of their questions about how God worked in the world, my answer consistently came back to the Holy Spirit. Having poor impulse control and access to the church’s sign, for weeks, the sign simply read, “The Answer is Probably the Holy Spirit.” I stand by this statement. If your question is how we find our way to God, the answer is the Holy Spirit moving as God’s prevenient grace. If you ask about growing as Christians, it’s all about cooperating with the Holy Spirit as God’s sanctifying grace. If you’re pondering God’s comfort, healing, empowering, these too point straight to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit ends up like the ocean of air that surrounds us constantly. Our Advocate is so ubiquitous and so ingrained in existence that we stop noticing.
To fully appreciate the gift that we have in the Holy Spirit, we must understand that by abiding in us, God’s presence is never far from us. God can feel distant, but in fact, the Holy Spirit is always right at hand – constantly moving in your life. To miss this fact, as I did, means missing out on the truth of a loving God forever living right up close with God’s creation. Don’t miss the ocean of God’s love that surrounds us, always.