The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit lives in the Scriptures and in the heart of the believer…

As I was reading some encouraging words from a small anthology of Bible verses called Personal Promises From God’s Word this morning,  I happened to remember one time in Atlanta many years ago when I encountered some Hari Krishnas for the first time. They were dancing in the streets and chanting.  It was the late sixties, and since I had grown up in the middle of the Bible Belt,  I had little experience with other religions.  I lived near Atlanta, but although it was metropolitan, it was only beginning to become cosmopolitan. I was a freshman in college, embarking on a journey of self-discovery as I  experienced a larger and larger world opening up to me.  So, curious, I took one of their pamphlets.

I paraphrase, but one of the statements in the pamphlet, the only one that I remember, actually, said something to the effect that “God dances on our tongues as we chant.” The poetry of that idea stuck with me. I realized that in the ritual of chanting they connected with each other and also felt the sense of a higher power beyond that connection. Words have the power to connect us with each other and with God if we will let them.

Many people now meditate daily. They are soothed and elevated into a sense of spiritual awareness by transcendental meditation. When I was a teenager, the church I attended encouraged the habit of daily Bible reading and private prayer.  Several youth groups taught us this daily ritual, and when I attended church camps in the summer, time was designated for quiet comtemplation in some beautiful, remote location away from others. We were supposed to take our Bibles for added inspiration. Throughout my life, I have continued this practice, although with more consistency during certain phases than others.

Studying scriptures is an integral part of  all but the most primitive tribal religions.  All  this study has resulted in the major religions of the world  splintering into sects that emphasize different parts of the mother faiths.  Often these different perspectives have caused dissention and sometimes even violence. Within my own faith, the main divide revolves around a basic understanding of how language works. Language is at its very core metaphorical, since letters themselves are symbols for sounds, which combined make words, which in turn are symbols for things or ideas. Thus language in itself is a concrete attempt to express meaning beyond its own finite limitations.

The conflict comes in how literally we take various passages of the Bible. There is a danger in attempting to impose too literal an interpretation on passages which are parabolic in nature,  stories that attempt to teach truths although they are not necessarily factual. But much of the Bible is Jewish and early Christian history,  and the old and new testaments are even part of the Muslim faith. So history is factual, even though its interpretation is always influenced by the subjective point of view of the writer. So if truth is one’s object, there is an equal danger in failing to recognize the literal, concrete truth of the Bible as well.  We can drift into so much equivocating,  or so much scholarly rationalizing of the mystery that is essential to all faith,  that the scriptures lose their sacred power.

Certainly scholarship is necessary, and it is important to try to ascertain what is literally true and what is true without being factual. It is good to find historical or scientific evidence outside the Bible to confirm or challenge its history. But faith requires an acceptance of the miraculous, a belief that some things happen that are beyond our understanding.  As a small child, I learned to sing ” The B-I-B-L-E,  yes that’s the book for me,” and I learned throughout my Christian education that the Bible is the word of God. I still believe that, but in a different sense from saying that the Bible is always the exact “words” of God. The hugeness of God cannot be contained in mere language, which is finite when God is infinite.

Although I accept many of the words completely literally, I think more in terms of the opening verse in the Gospel of John, which states, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In this verse, the living Christ is equated with “the Word.” So I believe that God lives within the language of the Bible in a sacramental way, that the Holy Spirit is actually present in the testaments, speaking to us and interpreting the  words to us as we need to apply them to our lives. As a believer and a philosopher, I believe that God is omnipresent, that the Creator lives in all creation, much as the American Indians  recognized that every tree or rock is Holy. But I believe that the Holy Spirit lives in the Scriptures and in the heart of the believer in a more accessible way, a more personal and particular way. God uses the words of the Bible to introduce us to the Word in the Bible, to facilitate an encounter that is both transcendent and personal, infinite and intimate, far exceeding what our mere intellectual efforts to analyze language can ever yield.




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