I have had those moments in my lifetime where I have felt fully alive. Fully filled with the power and the grace of God the Holy Spirit. Those moments are characterized with clear vision. They are characterized by having hope that can be articulated and explained to all. There are those moments in which I have felt ready to give an accounting of the hope that is within me and to do so in a joyful fashion that articulates a sense of knowing above all the on passing joy that comes from knowing our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ.
Then of course, there are those other moments. Those are moments in which it seems that the presence of the Holy Spirit is not nearly quite some strong. I may have a vision but it may not be as clear as it previously had been; I may have a hope but It is not one that is so easily articulated. There is a sense of caution of trepidation asses for being circumspect. At those moments I would not say that the Holy Spirit is absent. But I would say that it’s not quite the abiding and comforting and enfolding and driving presence that may have been at other times.
And, then there are those moments that we all experience as Christian people. That would be characterized with a keen awareness of the absence of the Holy Spirit. That of course is what some of the ancient mystics called the dark night of the soul after the great work of St. John of the Cross. There is the keen awareness that prayer and remaining faithful is hard work, a struggle to be endured. It is not the thing that comes easily when everything seems to be an effort. As that those moments the experience of joy is difficult to see. It’s like the hike in the woods that started out pleasantly enough but went on 5 miles too long. It’s like that sunny day out in the canoe where the ride down stream has lasted an hour or an hour and a half too long.
You know what I am talking about. There is neither singular hope, nor is there clarity of vision. If there’d been the fire of the Spirit once, one wonders: who brought the fire extinguishers? Perhaps there may yet remain a glowing embers here, a hot spark there. But there’s certainly no fire no flame no sense of clarity that there was in the
earlier estate. It is a wintry spirituality.
The Montanists were a group of early Christian people who focused on the importance and the authenticity of life in the spirit. You would consider them the first Pentecostals of the Christian church. If there was not the sense of being fully alive fully ablaze it was presumed to be an artificial and phony expression of the love of God. The Montanists eventually died out. They died out because it is impossible for human beings to sustain such an intense experience as the life of the Spirit entirely throughout one’s life. After awhile, it seems as though there are those things that are contrived, not real, not genuine, not authentic.
And that’s the problem of many Christians experienced during the course of their life. That is always the challenge of those wonderful renewal movements that come down the pike and have been very instrumental in very valuable in renewing the life of the church. You can’t always sustain the high that comes from such things as cursillo, marriage encounter or faith alive. They are wonderful occasions for the renewal of faith.
And like for many of you, it has been the case for me also, these renewal experiences have had significant impact at certain moments of my life. Looking backward, those are moments are to be treasured. And, for those moments I’m grateful. They truly are gifts of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.
But there is a recognition in Christian spiritual direction, a tradition long-lost these days, which points out a very obvious reality. And what’s that obvious reality? The obvious reality is that you cannot always be at the moment of ecstasy. You cannot always be at the moment of unbridled joy and clarity of vision. The reality is that those moments become all too quickly tarnished because of the way in which we must all live in the world. And, yet, it is the reality that we live in the world that teaches us the necessity of striving for greater meaning, a religious dimension of life.
So, for some of us Pentecost is an occasion of great joy. But for others Pentecost confronts us with a very difficult spiritual problem. We may not feel so caught up in the spirit. We may look at those wonderful lessons that we have, and being confronted by the enthusiasm of the early apostles we have to ask ourselves where’s the fire, chief? Have we put it out? Because the church is made up of human beings, and human beings all have a tendency to institutionalize things, has the church in its institutional life quench just dried and extinguish the fire of the Holy Spirit? That’s the narrow-minded allegation by some these days. Disappointment in the institutional life of the church has caused people to turn a blind eye to the potential and the message of hope and joy.
What we need to be reminded this Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit is not left us. It is not departed from us. The Holy Spirit might have fallen in tongues of flames and fire initially. The outpouring of that gift initially maybe cause for ecstasy. But it is normal when that initial glow faded. It is a part of your spiritual development that there be moments where you do not see it. Those are the moments that are also as a gift from God. They are the moments in which God is inviting you to grow ever more and more on your dependence upon his love and his grace in our lives.
What I really love about classic Anglican spirituality, is this: it neither downplays the importance of the role of the Holy Spirit nor does it over emphasize the importance role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Instead we are invited to a thorough appreciation of the presence of the Holy Spirit without a fixation on the sensational. We are still called to see visions and see them with clarity. We are still called to dream dreams. But we are called to do so in a way that reflects the presence of God in the very fabric of our lives as a consistent force not something here today and gone tomorrow.
So today, some of us may be full of the fire and in which case we should give thanks to Almighty God. Some of us may be in that situation where we feel the fire but maybe not as strongly as we once did. And as that is the case, then we might well rejoice because the flame of God is still there. We might pray that God open our hearts and souls to be fanned into the fullness of flame We have the opportunity to look forward to that moment of it’s coming. And then for those of us who have the fear that we have indeed extinguished the flame for hope the fire appears to have gone out. There again may we rejoice. For God is teaching us an important lesson and that lesson is our dependence upon his grace. Even so, Come, Holy Ghost our souls inspire, enlighten with celestial fire. Thou, the anointing spirit art who doest thy sevenfold gifts impart. Anoint and cheer our soiled face, with the abundance of thy grace.