Sunday, 13 January 2019

Born in the Spirit

In looking at the baptism of Christ we are inevitably drawn to the descent of the Spirit and need to come to some sort of understanding of what this means for us today. In the reading from Luke's gospel (Lk. 3.21-22) the descent of the Spirit occurs after Jesus' baptism while he was praying, by implication, on his own. Thus, the words and the presence of the Spirit was a personal experience and not a public one. In Mark's gospel it is a vision experienced as he comes up from the water (Mk. 1.10-11), which is repeated in Matthew (Matt. 3.16-17). To my mind this indicates that the baptismal experience was an extremely profound one for Jesus' internal spiritual life with few repercussions on the lives of those around him at the time. It was thought provoking and so intense that he required solitude to process the experience. Elsewhere in the Scriptures the Spirit is outwardly manifest, or apparently so, with the laying on of hands (Acts 8.17) but usually more personal in the way of the prophets (Is. 43.1). If it is as personal as it appears what then does it mean for us to be born in the Spirit, is it the ecstatic prominence that is seen or is it a more subdued life changing event?

If we were to look back in the scriptures to the first "manifestation" of God's Spirit and interaction with humanity we would be looking back to the Sinai event and the initial revelation of God to the people of Israel (Exodus 19-20). This is a traumatic event for the Israelites, which ultimately leads them into a rejection of the personal entwinement of  God's presence in their lives. A personal involvement that comes with a cost that they leave to the prophets and at the time, Moses (Exod. 20.19) as God's Spirit demands of us a prophetic voice. The fear according to interpretive sources is a fear of responding to God with openness and in the keeping of the commandments. This is the originary fear of opening oneself up to be injured and hurt by the other as we allow them into our hearts and minds. We fear, ultimately, being hurt when we cannot live up to the expectations of God and the other. In our reaction to that fear we lash out against what we perceive to be attacks against our person or our integrity. Until the Israelites were able to place God and the other before themselves they found themselves within the desert experience and continually in a place of exile. This took forty years of pain and struggle, it was not immediate.

The swirl of ecstasy when we accept the Spirit  (Egyptian artist - Taher Abdel Azim)

Since that time, the closeness of God's Spirit became associated only with the prophets who undertake God's bidding, even if sometimes against their own will (See Jeremiah). For us Christ changes this as he models the acceptance of the Spirit in a manner that can be emulated without fear. The prophetic charge of God's call is still present but it is not the charge of strangeness but of normality. It opens us up to the other without fear but with love. It means that when we are filled with the Spirit we reject our own responses if they are abusive of the other. It means that we are responsive to the hurt in others and do not compound it in our own commentary. Our displays of God's love need to be responsive to the presence of the other. Sobriety and sternness do not always determine the presence of God. Then again hysteria and ecstasy are also not, necessarily, indicators of God's presence. God's Spirit calls us from the moment of Baptism, just as it called to Christ. Our personal response to God's presence is not always immediate as babies, but manifests as we grow into our faith and the acknowledgement of God in our presence (remember the forty years). So being born of the Spirit is an acceptance of the presence of God in our lives, a presence that has been with us since our early lives. It is our recognition of the other and it is God's acknowledgement of that change in our perspective.

In moving into the world we return with a true respect for each other that encompasses faults, errors and disagreements. It allows us to form a harmonious whole in the presence of God and it forgives the hurts that we deem to have been heaped upon us, through mis-perception, mis-understanding and genuine error. No community that is called into place is perfect but struggles within itself to find God's presence and display it to the world with joy and peace. God truly loves us, so that we may mirror that love back to God and as a light in the world. Our prophetic ministry as bearers of God's light in the world is to understand our own grievances, forgive ourselves and others whilst enfolding each other in prayer and love. It is these actions that achieve community and bring God's presence into reality.

1 comment:

Glyn Marillier said...

Maruti, this is a wonderful call to love and joy through forgiveness of self as well as the other. Thank you.