It's not uncommon to hear in the theater, in the course of setting the lights, someone say something like, "We have some spill on the edge of the playing area, downstage right." What they mean is that there is light falling where they don't want it to go. It's often faint, diffuse light, bu nonetheless not the effect desired. The techies will employ one instrument or another to get a sharper edge to the light.
(That I am using this analogy has some irony, as I just barely passed my lighting course in college, 30 years ago. I hope that what I've written above is clear enough to the non-theater person and doesn't embarrass myself too badly in front of my techie friends.)
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This thought came to me as I was reading The Holy Spirit by Alasdair I.C. Heron. In this book Heron surveys the many ways the Holy Spirit has been portrayed or defined, both in scripture and in the history and doctrines of the church.
Associated with creation, ecstatic praise, prophetic utterances, conversion, and healing---among other things---the Holy Spirit has a history of not being up to any one thing. As the church wrestled with the Trinitarian language we used---particularly in the baptismal formula of "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit"---questions arose. Wrangling with how Jesus was the "Son of God" was difficult enough, given our roots in Hebrew religion, but the Holy Spirit, with vague references in Hebrew scripture (usually just "Spirit of God," very seldom "Holy Spirit") seemed simultaneously like a given and an afterthought. We've always thought of God as Spirit, what's to discuss? But, ugh, we've made a deal about the Son being fully human and fully divine. Shouldn't we also say something about this Holy Spirit thing? How do we speak of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit but only define two of them? And so the wrangling and wrestling continued.
A skilled lighting designer can help a team of theater artists direct our eyes to what they want us to see on stage, but it's slippery business. Particles and/or waves don't care much about our defined playing area.
However I go about talking about the Holy Spirit, there's going to be "spill" beyond what I say here. The word "ineffable" comes to mind, quickly followed by the old joke, "don't eff with the Ineffable." The joke seems like good advice, but still here I am.
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I've struggled with this first entry into the Not Exactly Systematic series. I've a notebook with no less than half a dozen false starts and her I have this, still mostly an introduction.
So I'll close out with a little more introductory verbage. I want to be plain about my biases in my focus going forward, also about my reasons for starting this series with the Holy Spirit, rather than more traditionally with the Father.
Bias---I believe there is Good News in the Christian faith. I believe the Gospel has the power to transform and enliven our existence. In reading Heron's book, I was struck by the absence of Gospel language. It wasn't absent, but it was not the focus---it was mostly spill. If a theology of the Holy Spirit---pneumatology for us theology geeks---is to have meaning for me, it is in proclamation of Good News. So my attempts in writing about the Holy Spirit will be looking there. Spill will undoubtedly occur.
Reasons---As I began thinking about this project of writing about the Trinity (or in a broad way, the Creed), it occurred to me that the Holy Spirit is really the "person" that we experience most often or most directly if we experience something at all of God. God the Father is often painted as distant, needing intermediaries (like the Son or Spirit) for us to approach and experience God as Father. Jesus is the Incarnation of God, and we talk of him as being the person of the Trinity that comes near to us (Immanuel) in that this is God experiencing our pains and joys, sufferings and delights. Still, despite knowing an awful lot of Christians, I don't know anyone, personally, who has met the resurrected Christ in the same way that Thomas did, touching the wounds on the Body. I realized that anything I would call an encounter with Jesus was the work of the Holy Spirit revealing it as such.
So: Good News focus, beginning with the Holy Spirit as the "Person" we're most like to meet first.
Hopefully, next time, I'll move on beyond introductory material.
[Moreso than usual, I welcome comments on the NES series. Questions and reactions will help me focus and shape future installments. Thank you for engaging.]