John 20:22 “When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
So I’m walking down a street in the heart of Boston and in front of me are two teenage boys, ambling along deep in conversation. I had to get back to work, so I outstripped their leisurely pace and walked past. It was then that I heard one say to the other, “He doesn’t exactly fight crime. He’s like a spiritual advisor that can possess other people’s bodies.”
I found that a fascinating remark for a Tuesday afternoon in the city, but unfortunately I didn’t have the time to enter the conversation and learn more. My first thought, computer gamer that I am, was that they were playing some sort of role-playing game online and had created a character with such attributes. The office manager at the Bible Society, ever a fount of helpful information, thought that they were probably describing The Dresden Files, a Sci-Fi novel cum TV show where there is a character sort of fitting that description.
I will never know what they were discussing, exactly, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought that it would be an apt description for the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit isn’t a crime fighter exactly—it doesn’t take over a person and force them to do God’s will. It doesn’t come swooping in to thwart the forces of evil, although there are times when I wish it would. Instead, it is a sort of spiritual advisor that inhabits and speaks from within us—not “possession” in the sense that our own spirits are driven out or taken over, but dwelling along side of us to guide and gently transform us into our true selves.
Often it’s hard to get a grip on what we mean by the Holy Spirit, and Scripture itself has a number of different ways of describing it. Sometimes it interprets either between God and human beings or from person to person. Sometimes it brings comfort, sometimes challenge, sometimes power, sometimes wisdom. Sometime it shows up as a mighty wind with fire and sometimes, like in the passage from John above, it is taken in gently like a breath of air.
But in all cases, both in the Old Testament and the New, it is taken in, working on us from the inside out in whatever way we need it at the moment. It is not nearly as spooky as the old term, Holy Ghost, might imply (although The Dresden Files version apparently is a somewhat crotchety old ghost that lives in a skull when not possessing others). The Holy Spirit is merely the way God is currently animating the Body of Christ in the world. At birth we get the breath of life, just like Adam and everybody since. At our spiritual birth, the Holy Spirit gets thrown in the mix—a kind of spiritual advisor that dwells within us to interpret, to comfort, to guide, to empower, and to help us grow to be more like Christ. The Holy Spirit is all over the place, if you know what you’re looking for. Even in The Dresden Files.
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us. Amen.
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