The Holy Spirit: so much left to learn!

The Holy Spirit: so much left to learn! February 8, 2015

40Days40 scripture texts.

40 thoughtful meditations.

40 spaces to write your own reflections.

40 original prayers to the Holy Spirit.

That’s my newest book, Forty Days with the Holy Spirit, hot off the press. So hot, in fact, it’s just out at Amazon, or you can get your copy on sale straight from Paraclete Press. It’s the perfect book to deepen your discipleship and refresh your faith during Lent, which begins in a couple of weeks.

I’ll post the first day’s meditation and prayer later on. For now, here are the opening paragraphs.

The church I grew up in, a small church sandwiched between a TV repair shop and a donut store, wasn’t big enough to have a youth group. But I cut my teeth on Christianity in that church. We were a little band of harsh-toned New Yorkers who knew how to work hard, to make due, and to have fun together. I learned three things about the Holy Spirit in that church.

Christians receive the Holy Spirit at baptism. Call me nerdy, but I memorized every verse in the New Testament on baptism, verses like Acts 2:38, which you’ll find at the tail end of the first recorded sermon in Christian history, when Peter tells his hearers to “repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The belief that Christians receive the Spirit at baptism was a key marker of my church. I debated endlessly with Lois, my French-horn-playing Baptist friend in high school, who believed that baptism is an act of obedience, which follows but doesn’t prompt the reception of the Spirit.

I learned that speaking in tongues was not welcome. We were a church of immigrants. On occasion, local barber Xavier Munisteri would launch out in the middle of Sunday morning worship with a blather of languages I didn’t understand. I figured he was speaking Spanish. (He was Italian, but I thought he was Puerto Rican, since the only barbers I’d met, at Hempstead Turnpike’s Mr. Haircut—a buck a cut—were Puerto Rican.) Turns out he wasn’t speaking Spanish. He was speaking in tongues. My mother told me just last year that Xavier was asked to leave. Speaking in tongues was not welcome.

The church also taught me that we could figure out our spiritual gifts. Gifts like teaching, administration, service, and encouragement, which the apostle Paul listed in letters to churches in Corinth and Rome. We filled out long inventories of spiritual gifts, which helped us to identify what part we should play in the body of Christ with our particular gift.

I didn’t learn much about the Holy Spirit, did I? I don’t even agree with all that I learned. But this I do know. There is so much more to learn about the Holy Spirit! So for thirty years I’ve been hard at it. I taught my first course on the Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul during my first year as a seminary professor back in 1986. I wrote my first article on the Holy Spirit in a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar in 1992. I spent 1994, my first sabbatical leave in Tübingen, Germany, writing my first book on the Holy Spirit, The Spirit in First Century Judaism.

And I’ve been hard at it ever since. Whenever I write about other topics, I itch to get back to the Holy Spirit. Whenever I’m asked to teach in churches, I teach about the Holy Spirit. Whenever I blog, I tend to blog about the Holy Spirit. Whenever I find my mind wandering, it’s usually in the realm of the Holy Spirit.

If you, like me, feel you’ve still got much more to learn—much more to experience, too— about the Holy Spirit, then this book is for you. It’s not a seminary textbook. It’s certainly not the final word on the Holy Spirit. It’s intended to prompt you to reflect at your own pace and to absorb, slowly and deliberately, the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life, your community of faith, and the world. I hope, too, after you’ve spent 40 days with this book, you’ll say, There is so much more to learn about the Holy Spirit!



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