***This is the first of a two part inquiry into the Person of the Holy Spirit. This post will explore our relationship with the Holy Spirit more in terms of Who He is, and tomorrow I will post a follow up considering our relationship with the Holy Spirit in more experiential terms of how He should be an essential Person in our spiritual lives.
There is a beautiful passage I was recently reading from On Cleaving to God, a text attributed to St. Albert the Great:
For love draws the lover out of himself (since love is strong as death), and establishes him in the beloved, causing him to cleave closely to him. For the soul is more where it loves than where it lives, since it is in what it loves in accordance with its very nature, understanding and will, while it is in where it lives only with regard to form, which is even true for animals as well…Nor can anyone attain the supreme beatitude unless summoned to it by love and yearning. Love after all is the life of the soul, the wedding garment and the soul’s perfection, containing all the law and the prophets and our Lord’s teaching. That is why Paul says to the Romans, Love is the fulfilling of the law, (Rom. 13.8) and in the first letter to Timothy, The end of the commandment is love. (1 Timothy 1.5).
Have you ever lived far from a friend? Or a significant other? I’ve done both, and let me tell you—it’s hard. My best friend lives across the country from me, and my sister lives at least a thousand miles away, and most of my closest friends are at least a three hour drive beyond where I live. When I’ve stayed up hours beyond midnight, when I’m on FaceTime at times inconvenient for all of us, when I’m involved in their lives and classes and friendships and know about people I have never met, I understand what St. Albert is talking about. My soul is confined to my body, because I am, after all, body and soul. But my soul does in a way share life with these ones I love, because I am made for communion, because I seek to know my friends more—to share in their days and weeks as I may, and I seek their good through prayer and conversation and anything I can do to bring it about.
Now, there is a side of this experience of being in that reveals our life in Christ; namely, we are called to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, but I’d like to take a different approach. Instead of considering how love is the principle by which we are in God, I think the far more neglected side of this thought is the following point St. Albert makes: love is the life of the soul. That is to say, while love draws us to God and brings us into Him, love is also the principle by which God is in us and dwells in our souls. In fact, God’s love by which He comes and dwells among us is in fact the reason we can love Him and desire to be with Him in the first place.
This began to make more sense to me when I realized that I don’t have to exist. I mean, obviously, I could have not been born. But it’s not just me. All of us, this whole world, none of it was necessary. God, in His Holy Trinity, was content. The Person of the Father originated the Word, Who differed only in that He was from the Father, and the mutual Love between them is the Holy Spirit (or the outpouring of the Love of the Father for the Son if you are feeling more Orthodox today). Yet, love does not remain static.
Think about it: when we love other people so much, in a romantic sense, we want to have a wedding and invite all our friends. The best weddings are those where the couple invites the guests to come in and share the joy and happiness they have found. In these instances, love is not static but dynamic—it reaches beyond itself simply because it desires others to find this joy and happiness encompassed in love. In fact, when that love aligns just right with biology, it becomes life-giving—love is the proper context through which new life was intended to enter the world. Love is like fresh-baked cookies: the scent diffuses everywhere, suggesting that the goodness of the cookie existing could make your life even better.*
The Holy Spirit, the Love of the Father and the Son, likewise is dynamic. As our highest Good, God is that which we most fundamentally and deeply desire, and yet we can only love Him in being loved by Him, for “this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us” (1 John 4:10). God, loving us, gave us His Son, Who in turn calls us to union. In Christ, we are one with Him as He and the Father are One and we remain in Him. The gift of this call to love, sometimes called the call to holiness, in our lives is the action of the Holy Spirit coming to us. The Person Who is the Love between the Father and the Son, a Love so perfect it is personal and wholly God, reaches out to embrace us.
Christ gives us the Holy Spirit to dwell in us as members of His Church—He is giving us the Love the Father has for Him. This Love, by inclination to us (which God freely chooses), by knowing us fully, and by loving us so much as to give us all of Himself without reservation, can only be effected by the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity dwelling within our souls.
So what does this mean? We are baptized Christians, and the Holy Spirit dwells in us; in this Trinitarian Unity, Christ has revealed that the Father through the Son in that same Holy Spirit also dwell within us. It means that God loves us so radically that He seeks us out with the ardor of a lover who will do anything to awaken desire within us. Once he is in us, God the Holy Spirit penetrates our soul, knowing us “fully.” This is rather terrifying to consider—to be stripped bare before one who loves us. And yet, it is not without reason that St. Albert also calls Love the “wedding garment and the soul’s perfection.” In that knowledge, He also captures us in His Love which is Himself.
We are imperfect. We are all wounded, whether by the scars or the festering blisters of sin—the problem of evil and the problem of us doing bad things. And yet. God wants to be in us, not to condemn us, but to draw us ever nearer to Him in love. God wants to clothe us with himself, to heal our scars and cauterize our wounds with flame of love. St. Bernard recognizes this healing offered in the Spirit when he prayed:
O Wisdom, sweetly powerful and powerfully sweet, with what skill of healing in wine and oil do you restore my soul’s health. Powerfully for me and sweet to me. You deploy your strength from one end of the earth to the other, ordering all things sweetly, driving off all hostile powers and cherishing the weak. Heal me, Lord, and I shall really be healed, I shall sing praise to your name.
The wounds, the sins, the shames, the fears we all carry with us are not all we are. We are loved, so profoundly that God Himself seeks out those secret memories we fear to uncover, in order to heal us if we desire it. God is jealous: He will let nothing separate us from His love, except our own refusal to receive that love.
For love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a most vehement flame.
Pray to the Holy Spirit. Talk to Him, particularly from your wounded and sinful state, because He wants to embrace you and draw you to Himself in His Trinity through the gift of the Sacraments. The Holy Spirit, Love, brings God to us and brings us into union with God in His Most Holy Trinity. He seeks to perfect us, to make us holy, to make us lovable, through loving us. If He still seems to remote, consider beginning by inviting Him to dwell in your soul with the Church’s ancient prayer:
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love.
*In truth the Holy Spirit is nothing like cookies, but then God is in many ways nothing like us, so we use images and analogies and the way of negation (i.e. “God is not human) because revelation gives us some basis to say things (like how St. Athanasius unpacks St. John’s profession that those who have the Spirit are “the sweet savor of Christ” to show the Holy Spirit is Breath of the Son Who anoints us and impresses Christ into our souls as a seal).