Have a question about life, love, or faith? Post it as a comment or email it to melfert@stjohns-cathedral.org, or submit your question online privately.

Hey Rev!

What do Christians mean when they say to follow or listen to the Holy Spirit?

- Wondering

Stained glass window with symbol of Holy Spirit

Stained glass window with symbol of Holy Spirit Photo courtesy Nancy Bauer via Shutterstock

Dear Wondering:

A whole lot of things.

“Christian” is an enormous category. Among folks who self-identify as Christians, we find supporters of just about every political party, people who hold a spectacular range of opinions on the great moral questions of our time, and communities which respond to the divine in a breadth of ways. Christians all agree that Jesus is vitally important. But, beyond that, the debate begins. Much as if we were to ask, therefore, what North Americans mean by “freedom” or what women mean by “intimacy,” asking what Christians mean by following or listening to the Holy Spirit is going to yield a big range of answers.

So, Wondering, here’s the best that I can do to answer your question: I’ll tell you what I mean when I speak of heeding the Holy Spirit.

Let’s begin with Scripture. The Holy Spirit makes three really famous appearances in the Bible. First, at the very beginning of Genesis, as God starts the work of crafting the world, we hear that “the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Second, at Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit assumes the form of a dove and descends upon Jesus. Finally, the book of Acts tells us of the day of Pentecost, on which the Holy Spirit, this time embodied as wind and as fire, abruptly allows people to speak in languages which they did not previously know.

Running through these three stories we see themes of creativity, of possibility, of community, of blessing, of wisdom, of holy synchronicity. The same elements are present in the work of the Spirit today.

A few examples from my own life:

As a writer, I work with the Holy Spirit. This is what some people mean by inspiration. The Holy Spirit is the presence, the collaborator, the friend which Elizabeth Gilbert is referring to when she speaks of having a genius. It is what some of my other creative friends are referring to when they talk of their muse. And, while I have never played music or sports at a serious level, I suspect that musicians and athletes are naming the very same thing when they tell us that they are in a groove or in the zone. The Holy Spirit is that which allows us to create with a generous fecundity.

As a citizen, I work with the Holy Spirit. This is what some people mean by passion. The Holy Spirit is the tug on your heart which invites you to visit a grieving relative, to talk to a lonely person at the bus stop, to bring dinner to a neighbor who has broken her ankle, to choose a career which doesn’t make a whole lot of money but which adds to the sum of love in the world, to work with others to build justice. The Holy Spirit is that which pushes us to nurture compassion.

As a father and a husband and a friend, I work with the Holy Spirit. This is what some people call intuition. The Holy Spirit is the divine guesswork which, every now and again, let’s you say or do just the right thing, which gives an entire living room full of people the giggles, which allows you and your sister to finish one another’s sentences, which reminds you to be generous and forgiving and grateful. The Holy Spirit is that which builds community.

There are plenty more examples. Indeed, Wondering, I bet that you have your own: examples of inspiration and passion and intuition descending into your life like a winged blessing. These encounters with the Holy Spirit are what our friends in 12-Step spirituality know as moments of clarity. They are the times when we recognize that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, when we say “yes” to beauty and wonder and generosity and possibility, when the Holy Spirit invites us to follow and to listen.

Have a question about life, love, or faith? Post it as a comment or email it to melfert@stjohns-cathedral.org, or submit your question online privately.

 

Categories: Beliefs

Martin Elfert

Martin Elfert

The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which the Divine was at work in the world. Shortly thereafter, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination.

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