John 3:8 reads, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
I wish I could conjure up the Holy Spirit in my spiritual disciplines and I wish I could guarantee that you will encounter the Holy Spirit in yours, if you just follow three simple steps. And yet, of course, as any of us who practice these disciplines knows, it is not so. The Holy Spirit is a wild and unpredictable dance partner.
As far as I can tell, however, it is the critical dance partner for us. The experience of grace, love, understanding, and mercy that can come when the Spirit moves can move a person to tears or bring a calm that can only be called surreal. The same Spirit can call us into helping others, transforming our own lives, our very identities can be changed, our lives can be upended in the best of ways. In speaking with and counselling many Christians over the past few years I have learned that the personal experience of the Divine is critical to faith. It is far more important to hear the voice of God than to hear the voice of someone telling us what to believe, how to believe, and how to behave.
I haven’t had as many such moments as I would like but from time to time there is an undeniable encounter that requires understanding of some sort. I have heard this is true of many others. I know not everyone believes this, even many Christians have never had much by way of spiritual experiences. Many even fear them or decide ahead of time that all such moments are of evil powers. We are diminished by this truth. It strikes me, though, as something like Climate Change; many will deny it until it hits them with a force that cannot be denied, the fires or floods or droughts or winds…and suddenly our vision and understanding shifts and the world looks different than a moment ago.
In fact, I heard on a podcast that even the Coca Cola company is making some serious environmental/ecological shifts of late (of course not enough but still). This is not because they are “good” or because they “care” but because they have realized it is expedient to make changes. The truth of the material world cannot be denied forever and so behemoth companies must kneel before the climate. Similarly, I hope, many of us who have never encountered His Voice, who deny the voice, or mock those who hear it, will one day encounter it. In truth that is one of the promises of scripture.
So, while we cannot summon the Spirit like a butler à la Downton Abbey we can place ourselves in a position of openness to encounter. Coca Cola and the like thanks to their size are exposed in ways that made them vulnerable to climate change, just so, we can make ourselves vulnerable to be exposed to the very Spirit of God. We do this by reading and learning what those who came before us experienced and learned. They tell us that dancing by a fire might help, sitting quietly and breathing and counting breaths until nothing but us and the Breath (Spirit is Pneuma aka Breath in Greek) remain, we do it by welcoming the stranger and listening to them speak, we do it by reading holy texts and reflecting on each word, we do it by journalling and asking God to control the pen in our hands, we do it by leaving towns and cities and talking to birds and trees. There are so many ways to encounter the divine! All we have to do is create the space, be vulnerable.
If you are in a place today that needs comfort, or perhaps vision for what is next, maybe it is peace or patience you need, maybe gentleness or kindness, do not close yourself off, but instead fight that urge and open yourself up. The Holy Spirit just might meet you today.
I can earnestly say I wish I could meet the Spirit more often, more deeply, and for longer periods of time. That is why I pursue the disciplines with gusto and why I promote them with such regularity.
May you be blessed by an encounter with the Triune today.