Intimate, Yet Global: Reflections on Jack Levison’s “40 Days with the Holy Spirit”

Intimate, Yet Global: Reflections on Jack Levison’s “40 Days with the Holy Spirit” February 11, 2015

BC_40DayswiththeHolySpirit_1Jack Levison’s 40 Days with the Holy Spirit invites you to take a journey in which you must let of control, go beyond your own understanding, and trust the wild winds of Divine Inspiration. You can’t put the Holy Spirit in a bottle. “The wind blows where it chooses,” so says Jesus. (John 3:4) You can’t confine the Spirit to a book, denomination, practice, style of prayer, or faith tradition. It blows everywhere, and yet speaks to each one of us in a voice that we can understand. Intimate and universal, it gives life to one, and to all. God’s Spirit touches all flesh, ready to inspire and guide, even when we currently aren’t looking for it.

I recall hearing of a biblical literalist once asserting, “I can buy all the Holy Spirit in the world for the price of this Bible.” While we can laud his devotion to scripture, we can also pity his narrow and breathtakingly parochial faith. If anything, the Spirit that inspired the persons and communities that penned and then shaped and canonized our scriptures, has much more light to shed on Divine Revelation than any book, including our Bible, can contain.

The words and wisdom Romans 8 have been central to my theology of the Holy Spirit. Here Paul speaks of God’s Spirit speaking within us, testifying to Christ, giving courage, liberating from legalism and, dare we say, Biblicism, and giving life and peace. Surely the Spirit is the life-force of Christian personal and communal experience, and we should pray for God’s Spirit to give life and energy to our daily lives and congregational programs and worship services. But, the Spirit is so much more than that. The Spirit within, breathes through us, and also all creation.

Creation is groaning and so are we. God’s Spirit gives life to the church of the Pentecost; it also moves through the imperfect yet evolving Creation. God’s Spirit moves through our companion animals, the sporting whale and ravenous shark, the migrating osprey, and the emergence of galaxies, suns, and planets. The vibrations of Spirit give rise to the deep longings of the non-human world and they give rise to our own yearnings for more abundant life. (Romans 8:22-25)

God’s Spirit moves personally, and goes far beyond Christian exclusivism to embrace the whole earth. Still, the Spirit inspires us. Paul’s words, noted in Romans 8:26-27, have always been enigmatic to me. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes for us in sighs too deep for words…the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

What are these intercessions? Are they inspirations, insights into chance encounters, guidance about our prayer life? Are they visions of what we can become? Do they lure us toward a larger vision of ourselves and the world? While we always need to be humble about the content of God’s inspirations, we can affirm, I believe, that the Spirit within is always congruent with God’s vision for our communities and the world. Could the Holy Spirit be attuning us to the cries of nature and the ecosystem? I believe Paul would say, “yes,” and invite us in our times to listen to the Spirit’s prompts to heal the environment not just for the survival of our grandchildren but the joyful spontaneity of non-human animals and the simple creatures, such as plankton, that make life possible in the oceans and on this planet.

Just as Jesus was not a Christian, neither is the Holy Spirit a Christian. We can follow her paths and call upon as central to our faith and single out our images of Spirit as unique to the gifts of our Christian tradition; yet she will always be more – thanks be to God – than any of our personal or communal visions can articulate.

Let me conclude with a Holy Spirit prayer, written by Jim Manley. The words of his “Spirit of Gentleness” capture the ever-present, always inspiring and global Spirit of God.

Spirit, Spirit of gentleness, blow through the wilderness,
calling and free.
Spirit, Spirit of restlessness,
stir me from placidness,
Wind, Wind on the sea.

You moved on the waters, you called to the deep,
then you coaxed up the mountains from the valleys of sleep,
and over the eons you called to each thing:
Awake from your slumbers and rise on your wings.

You swept through the desert,
you stung with the sand,
and you goaded your people with a law and a land,
and when they were blinded with their idols and lies,
then you spoke through your prophets to open their eyes.

You sang in a stable, you cried from a hill,
then you whispered in silence when the whole world was still,
and down in the city you called once again,
when you blew through your people on the rush of the wind.

You call from tomorrow, you break ancient schemes,
from the bondage of sorrow the captives dream dreams,
our women see visions, our men clear their eyes,
with bold new decisions your people arise.

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