Friday, December 03, 2004

a friendly ghost is all i need

I’m having trouble loving the Holy Spirit.

We Christians have this wonderfully confusing idea that the God of the Bible is three persons in one being. Whatever that means. It’s not something we came to lightly. There were quite a few heresies along the way to this rather far-fetched version of deity. But eventually it just seemed to make the most sense of the Biblical message, which is, as follows:

God is one. There is only one God. The one God was known by the ancient Jewish people as Yahweh, or something akin to that. All other supposed deities, depending on what book of the Bible you happen to be reading, are either artificially heightened supernatural beings, even more artificially heightened mortals, or figments of an over-active, human imagination. So far so good.

Then came Jesus. At first, Jesus was reluctant to claim his divinity, liking to call himself the Son. But later, through that whole salvific act, he came out of the closet as it were, and poof! The early church was presented with a problem. How could Yahweh the Father and Jesus the Son both be God? Some said Jesus wasn’t all God. Others said we now had two Gods. Still other said that Jesus and Yahweh were separate manifestations of one being; that it was just a matter of our finite human perception. But the written testament was clear. God was one, and the Father and Son were both God, and both had been so eternally even prior to our meager existence.

But before that whole mess could be cleared up, some pinhead had to pipe up in defense of the Holy Spirit. According to those New Testament epistles, he’s just as much God as the other two. If the church hadn’t called a few special counsels, we might not be split among Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox these days, but between monotheists, ditheists and tritheists! Though as luck or providence would have it, those early church fathers did get together and scour the Scriptures for our modern understanding of God as three persons in one being.

Setting aside the total lack of clarity and whisperings of mystery and paradox for just a moment, let’s get back to my problem. No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to love the Holy Spirit. The Father is easy. While he's burdened himself with a few questionable smitings of Israel’s neighbours here and there, he is the perfect example of the tender affection between parent and child. This is the widow who searched her house for the one lost coin, the shepherd who left his 99 to find the one, the father who danced for joy and ran to his sorry-ass prodigal son. How can you not love him?

Loving Jesus is easier. The man simply exuded love and affection from his pores -- from his every word and deed. Even when trading barbs with religious hypocrites he still had a righteous love about him, because they were his religious hypocrites, and he loved them just the same as anyone else. This is Son, who drew water from wells with Samaritans and spent his time with the outcasts of his day -- the hookers, the race-traitors, the leperous folk -- limbs and dignity falling to the floor. Perfect love existing perfectly as a witness for all those who've come since. It wouldn’t even matter if he were God; that it just so happens to be is another added bonus. Falling in love with Jesus every day is what makes the next dismal 24 hours bearable.

But then there’s the Holy Spirit. Maybe my problem is that there’s just not enough time to get to know him. He doesn’t really enter into the story until the book of Acts. Maybe it’s because he’s described as a spirit or ghost, and I get these feelings of coldness and clammy palms -- shivers like someone just walked over my grave. Sometimes, when I think of the Holy Spirit in maternal terms, as a female, it gets a bit easier. But I think I take the wind and water analogies a bit too far, and begin flirting with gaia or panentheism, and suddenly I’m a heretic. So I back track, and find myself once again not in love with the idea of loving a ghost.

I don’t know if this gets any easier with age, or if it’s a gender issue, or if I’m just a bit screwy in the head. But I want to love the trinity, and the entire trinity. The person of the Holy Spirit is too important theologically to just let it go. But embracing an idea and loving a person are two entirely different things. So I’ll continue to teeter between clamminess and heresy, hoping for those emotional moments during worship, and furiously deluding myself into believing that that’s the real Holy Spirit, setting reason and theology aside for a moment of self-hallucinatory, ecstatic satisfaction.

No comments: