Tuesday, June 30, 2015

NES: The Last Person

[NES---Not Exactly Systematic---is an indefinite and unexpectedly infrequent series of more theological writings within Crumbs at the Feast. I've made a goal of reading heavier theology in 2015, and these entries are a result of those readings.]

Co-equal. Co-eternal. Inseparable, yet distinct. Fully this while also fully that.

Father, Son, Holy Spirit—three yet, one. First Person, Second Person, Third Person of the Trinity. That order.

When I began my readings on the Holy Spirit, I did so with a notion that it was this Third Person that we might most intimately know, might have the most interaction with in our spiritual lives. As I've read, I've started thinking the Holy Spirit has as much claim to being the First as the Third.

The last shall be first, yes?

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"God is Spirit," the Incarnation said. This is John's Jesus, the most self-assured and self-aware Jesus of the canonical gospels. Granted, a developed Trinitarian theology wouldn't emerge for two or three centuries, so we can forgive Jesus for not elaborating on the relationship. We only have from John that the Father sent Jesus, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, and the Father is Spirit.

It seems to me that you can begin anywhere in that circle and wind up with the same stories. To number the dramatis personae seems futile and, really, unnecessary.

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The Holy Spirit is said to have many attributes. Helper. Comforter, Advocate. My preacher friends often speak of the Spirit as muse, noting her presence or absence in their sermon preparation. Others attribute fortuitous meetings or events to be the working of the Holy Spirit, casting her as a sort of agent of destiny. There's a managerial aspect to the Holy Spirit, distributing talents to everyone, from drawing pictures to engineering to glossalalia. The Holy Spirit is associated with a loss of control, the source of spontaneous praise, prophecy, or other ecstatic expression.

I would not deny any of these.

For the purposes of this formulation of the Trinity, however, for my little experiment of placing the Holy Spirit as "first person," I submit that the primary attribute of the Holy Spirit is revelation.

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When, as a child, I had an experience of God's omnipresence in my backyard—God in the grass, God in the crepe myrtle and pecan trees, God in the clouds and in all the spaces in between—what words should I use to describe it? Should I say I met the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit?

As I grew and slowed down the confirmation classes with my questions, who should I say was leading me into the pursuit of knowledge and understanding?

Which Person called me into seminary to study theology? Later, who called me into further study of the arts?

The correct question, I suppose, would be the indivisible Triune God, for where one is, three are. But experientially? I cannot say I met a resurrected Jesus who instructed me to meet him in Chicago. A stronger case might be made for the Father, who rears us, instructs us, guides us in the ways that we should go.

Still, experientially, all these instances have the essence of breath. This breath inspired certain actions or paths. My course feels driven by a metaphorical wind in my metaphorical sales, pushing me toward places I didn't always plan or expect.

God is Spirit. Pneuma. Ruach. Wind. Breath.

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What I am getting at is this: Whatever I may think, believe, experience about Jesus or a heavenly Father is not so much from having known them in a direct way. I begin to believe that the Holy Spirit is the starting place for all knowledge and understanding about God. What we know of the God of the Hebrew scriptures, who we must assume is the God Jesus called Father, comes to us via writers who wrote under the inspiration of the Spirit. We may approach Jesus as a man who taught and lived in an exemplary way, but it is the inspiration of the spirit that leads us to see the divine nature of this man from Nazareth. It takes the movement of the Spirit in our lives to inspire us to believe, it takes that inspiration—closely linked to imagination, too—to see the other two figures of the Triune God.

Hence, while the Holy Spirit comes third in our Triune formulations and, indeed, in the narrative of scripture, I begin to see the Spirit as the "person" of first contact with the divine. That anything of God is revealed to us is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the revelation that inspires our faith and the way we live our lives.

[Next NES---ousia and hypostasis!]