11-Holy Ghost III- Modern Slant
For the past six weeks we have been exploring the subject of “ecstasy”; it is a spiritual experience I am recommending. Eventually, our discussion worked its way around to a concept the Holy Ghost as the motivator of the ecstatic experience. Last week we studied writings, by Boethius and St. Thomas Aquinas, concerned with establishing without doubt the nature of the Holy Trinity. This week, beginning with Martin Luther, we will be looking at what a group of more modern philosophers have to say about the Holy Ghost. Eventually, we hope to tie all these thoughts in with some of our previously espoused ideas about ecstasy.
From the Boethius/St. Thomas Aquinas excerpts we sampled last week, we can come to one general conclusion about the neo-Platonist Christians: they love to play word games. I do not wish to trivialize the effort that went into creating these magnificently complex and insightful rational structures, but sometimes the delight these philosophers take, in creating long flawless trains of thought, is lost on me. I know, a lot of the time, I do the same thing, but, for me, after an hour of testing the strength of a subtle semantic distinction, the radiance fades from it, and I welcome some good old Martin Luther charisma.
[Sidebar: Just to be clear, here is a dictionary definition of “charismatic” as it pertains to certain aspects of Christianity;
": a member of a religious group or movement that stresses the seeking of direct divine inspiration and charisms (as glossolalia or healing)"
What is Charismatic Spirituality?
"We are familiar with many different spiritualities: Benedictine, Carmelite, Dominican, Franciscan, Holy Cross, Jesuit, Marian, Pauline, Vincentian. There are spiritualities for priests, religious, contemplatives, families, singles for Christ, missionaries, social ministries, various professions, and the like. These various spiritualities provide scriptural norms for spiritual maturity in these specialized lifestyles. We are grateful to the Holy Spirit for these spiritualities which are approved and are embraced by many disciples.
We must keep in mind that these various spiritualities presuppose and are built on the sacraments of initiation and the spirituality of the Christian life. A Christian's life, like the life of Christ, is led and empowered by the Holy Spirit. "Charismatic" means something initiated by the Holy Spirit or someone cooperating with the Holy Spirit. A "charismatic" spirituality is the Pentecostal spirituality initiated by the Holy Spirit for all Christians."]
As I have said many times, the index of truth in spiritual matters is DIRECT experience. We need language to give us a leg up in thought and meditation, but there is no substitute for direct experience. Clearly, no matter how dogmatic Luther may be, however tough-guy unsentimental he is, however GERMAN he is, his beliefs spring from a deep well of personal experience—through his sermons we can see that he truly knows Jesus; and, yet,even if he sometimes indulges in conclusions that are culture-driven, or, as I am fond of saying, “religion-driven”, there can be no doubt, from his writing, that he has personal knowledge of Jesus, which is to say knowledge of Jesus as manifested in the mundane world, which is to say, as the Holy Spirit.
The following is from an online article published by the Lutheran Church.
“Martin Luther wrote; "I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in the true faith."”
[Sidebar: This sentence is chock full of nuggets of meaningful significance:
1. The statement,“I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ,” puts Jesus beyond the reach of rational thought or mundane commitment. Luther emphasizes the fact that spiritual knowledge gained through ecstasies self-consciously triggered by concentration on divine symbols, is still ultimately a gift of grace. Furthermore there is the glaring implication that rational belief is inferior to direct personal experience.
2. The phrase, “the Holy Spirit has called me,” makes it clear, again, that it is not by our own efforts that we peek around the corner of the physical into infinity, but through a WILL greater than and beyond our own. This expression also impugns the Catholic idea of salvation through good works; Luther thinks that no matter how hard we try, we cannot achieve sainthood without the aid and consent of the Holy Spirit.
3. Lastly, this comment on the gifts of spirit, “enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in the true faith,” makes it perfectly clear that the Christian life in quintessentially inspired, at it source, by the Holy Spirit—thus “no one may come to the Father but by me.” Also, it is clear that the “true faith” is, once again, inspired, nay, DEFINED by the imprint of the Holy Spirit on the devotee.
Now, the problem with this, again, comes down to “RELIGION” with a capital R. The Holy Spirit may, transform the heart of the devotee, but when translated into the verbal language of dogma, mistakes of a social or strategic nature may seriously flaw the behaviors of followers who are not so generously blessed with insight. Remember, this is why Jesus spoke in parables: He did not want His meanings misconstrued by people who are apt at interpreting the letter but not the spirit of the Word.
Back to the Luther article:]
“For Lutherans, the Holy Spirit “as person” teaches that the Holy Spirit is one of God’s "three revealed faces." These faces are God the Creator, Jesus Christ the Redeemer, and The Holy Spirit. The center of God’s divine activity is the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Yet, just as the Son performed the work of the Father who sent him, so the Spirit performs the work of the Son in the believer, whom Christ “sends” into the world just as Jesus was sent into the world. In carrying on Jesus’ earthly ministry, the Spirit’s ongoing work is to reveal truth, give life and strengthen faith."
[Sidebar: At this point, I would like to interject this idea: I feel strongly that that the Will and the Word of the Holy Ghost are made manifest, in the soul of Man, via the activities of the Angels--that it is the Angels who are the mechanism through which the work of the Holy Spirit is performed. Indeed, there are several concepts that link the Holy Spirit and Angels in my mind. For one thing, remember that the Holy Ghost is often symbolized by a faceless WIND. Keywords are "FACELESS", (that is, lacking a personal identity of its own), and WIND (an amorphous, indiscrete, yet potent, cloud of invisibility). Both of these designations may be appropriately applied to Angels.
I’m just spit-balling here, but I have always had the intuitive impression that the work of the Holy Spirit is done by the so-called "angles of God", the purely impersonal thought forms of God. Angels are lower than Man because they have no personal identity--they exist in the purely abstract realm of thought, and convey their meanings to the Human souls, innocent of all carnal context. (Steiner says the angels IMPRINT the divine truth on the astral body of the devotee.) Since Angels are pure thought, AND pure energy, the logical consequence of injecting pure thought into the sequential stream of time and material, is movement--it is not the MATERIALITY but the ENERGY of the Angelic touch that imprints itself upon the devotee's spiritual body, creating a thought form, i.e., a coherent sequence of images which synergistically convey a holistic meaning, from a string of partial meanings, and which refer to an Eternal Truth unencumbered by the fetters of Time.
Let us examine the word "Form" more closely, especially as it pertains to the expression "Thought Form". A reasonable definition of the term, FORM, might run thus: the sequential creation of a continuum of variously weighted values, whose impact on the physical is capable of:
1. making an imprint on the soul of, and
2. initiating change in, the subjective reality of the devotee.
In other words, a thought form is an ACTIVE thought, an entity originating in the lofty stratosphere of the abstract, but which is capable of descending into the physical and exerting a TANGIBLE effect on the material plane. The FORM is the sequence as it is played out in time, and recorded into MEMORY. In memory the thought form may be repeated again and again like a favorite TV episode; thus, the thought form's positive benefits may be reinforced with each repetition. Divine Truth is imperceptible to the rational mind, but these angelic thought Forms act kind of like the carrier waves of the Divine Truth--Truth imparted to us from the Will of the Father, through the personal affection of Jesus, into the abstract notes of Gabriel's trumpet (so to speak).
Steiner talks about angels IMPRINTING divine images on the soul; indeed, I have always kind of suspected that these images were transmitted to the devotee from the Father by way of the angel, the, you might say, MOUTHPIECE of the Holy Ghost. It’s just a thought. This is one of the subtleties of spiritual mechanism I fear we are destined to understand only much later.
Back to the Luther article:]
"Much of our understanding of “the work” of the Holy spirit comes from the New Testament book of John – specifically verses 14:26:“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”
“But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:”
and John 16:7-15:“7 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.
8 When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:
9 about sin, because people do not believe in me;
10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer;
11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.
13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.
15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”
According to the New Testament the “new life in Christ” from beginning to end is solely the work of the Spirit. The Spirit’s essential work of bestowing God’s grace of forgiveness is pure gift, renewing us so that Christ may dwell in us.”
[Sidebar: And here is the kicker:]
“For Christians, the Spirit makes the living and lifechanging Christ a personally experienced reality."[Sidebar: PERSONALLY EXPERIENCED REALITY.]
"In John 14:16 we are told by Jesus that the Spirit is our Advocate which is given to dwell with us forever. John goes on to say,
John 14:17:"You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you."Thus the Spirit, equal in time, power and glory, comes to humanity from both Father and Son. The Spirit not only creates faith, but also sustains the church in the “one true faith” passed on from the first disciples.”
I wish to emphasize the point made here that the CHURCH is not a building, nor an institution, nor a constitution of dogmatic guidelines--it is a mystical structure of interlocking personal experiences and angelic transmissions from the Holy Ghost. It is the commonality of Spirit, not anything else, that makes the church holy and indestructible.
In line with this thinking Dietrich Bonhoeffer, says in The Cost of Discipleship:
“The temple of God is the holy people in Jesus Christ. The Body of Christ is the living temple of God and of the new humanity.”
C.S. Lewis describes the essence of THE CHURCH in this back-handed report from The Screwtape Letters:
" . . . the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy."
I could not resist throwing in a few more quotes from various philosophers and poets to round out our perspective:
“I myself do nothing. The Holy Spirit accomplishes all through me.”
Rudolf Steiner from Le Mystere Chretien et les Mysteres Antiques:
“In the early days of Christianity there sprang up in the old Pagan world, systems of the universe which seemed to be a prolongation of the philosophy of Plato, but which could be understood also as a spiritualisation of the wisdom of the Mysteries. All these systems had their starting-point in Philo, the Jewish philosopher of Alexandria, who said : `It is necessary for the soul to come out of the ordinary ” I.” Then it enters into a state of spiritual ecstasy, of illumination, when it ceases to know, to think, and to recognise in the ordinary sense of the words. For it has identified itself with the divine, they have become one.”
"Jesus Christ and His comforting spirit -- the Holy Spirit -- are a powerful force for helping us to forgive. Cayce identifies the Holy Spirit as “the motivating force of man’s relationship to God and to the fellow man.” He identifies the mind as “the Christ-Way,” saying that the mind “becomes the channel through which there is builded the greater understanding with ourselves, others, and God” (1947-1). Therefore, we need to evoke the motivating force (the Holy Spirit) and channel it through our thoughts about ourselves and others each day. When negative thoughts come, clear them away with the higher motivation of the Holy Spirit and the rebuilding power of the Christ Consciousness."
Joseph Campbell in A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living:
"The key to understanding the problem that’s solved with the symbolic idea of the Trinity is the Tantric saying,
'To worship a god, one must become a god.'
That is to say, you must hit that level of consciousness within yourself that is equivalent to the deity to whom you are addressing your attention.
"In the Trinity, the Father is the deity your attention is addressed to; you are the Son, knower of the Father; and the Holy Spirit represents the relationship between the two.
It seems to me you cannot have the notion of a god without having implicit the notion of a Trinity: a god, the knower of the god, and the relationship between the two, a progressive knowing that brings you closer and closer to the divine.
"The divine lives within you."
Jack London from The Call of the Wild:
“There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.
This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad in a stricken field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight.”
David A. Bednar:
"Revelation is communication from God to His children on the earth and one of the great blessings associated with the gift and constant companionship of the Holy Ghost."
“The Spirit of God speaking to the spirit of man has power to impart truth with greater effect and understanding than the truth can be imparted by personal contact even with heavenly beings. Through the Holy Ghost the truth is woven into the very fibre and sinews of the body so that it cannot be forgotten”.
Watchman Nee: from The Normal Christian Life:
“There is nothing stereotyped about God's dealings with His children. Therefore, we must not by our prejudices and preconceptions make watertight compartments for the working out His Spirit, either in our own lives or in the lives of others. We must leave God free to work as He wills and to leave what evidence He pleases of the work He does.”
[Sidebar: I like this quote a lot because it emphasizes the vital spiritual technique of letting go. As rational beings, we want desperately for the universe to make sense, but whatever "sense" we stumble on to will be ultimately inadequate to satisfy our minds. Only when we rebuke the tyranny of the mind on our attitudes and let the heart lead us into abstruse and foreign terrains, will we be engulfed by the Cloud of Unknowing and be free.
It also touches on a point we made about prophecy: that prophecy is a BY-PRODUCT of ecstasy, not the object of ecstasy. Thus, the divine truths, delivered down to us from on high, are never complete, never definitive, always ambiguous because, as stated above:
"We must leave God free to work as He wills and to leave what evidence He pleases of the work He does.”]
Martin Luther King Jr.:
“Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words. Their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart.”
[Sidebar: We have heard these words many times--that words can't convey true meaning. But I wonder about the term MEMORY. How do we remember? Is it always in words, or images, OR is it in the "inaudible language of the heart" that our best memories are expressed?]
Arthur Rimbaud: Sensation
“On the blue summer evenings, I will go along the paths,
And walk over the short grass, as I am pricked by the wheat:
Daydreaming I will feel the coolness on my feet.
I will let the wind bathe my bare head. I will not speak,
I will have no thoughts: But infinite love will mount in my soul;
And I will go far, far off, like a gypsy,
through the countryside - as happy as if I were a woman."
Virginia Woolf, from Orlando:
“A toy boat, a toy boat, a toy boat,’ she repeated, thus enforcing upon herself the fact that it is not articles by Nick Greene on John Donne nor eight-hour bills nor covenants nor factory acts that matter; it’s something useless, sudden, violent; something that costs a life; red, blue, purple; a spirit; a splash; like those hyacinths (she was passing a fine bed of them); free from taint, dependence, soilure of humanity or care for one’s kind; something rash, ridiculous, like my hyacinth, husband I mean, Bonthrop: that’s what it is — a toy boat on the Serpentine, ecstasy — it’s ecstasy that matters.”
T.S. Eliot, from Four Quartets:
“The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.”
"There the whole sky is filled with sound,
and there that music is made without fingers and without strings;
There the game of pleasure and pain does not cease.
If you merge your life in the Ocean of Life,
you will find your life in the Supreme Land of Bliss.
What a frenzy of ecstasy there is in every hour!
and the worshipper is pressing out and drinking the essence of the hours.
I speak truth, for I have accepted truth in life;
I am now attached to truth, I have swept all tinsel away.
Thus is the worshipper set free from fear;
thus have all errors of life and of death left him."
Thus endeth this lengthy discourse on ecstasy and the Holy Spirit. If I have learned anything from this series, it has been to sharpen my will to acquire Divine Sight, because my thirst for living water has grown incrementally.
To conclude, here, once again, is St.Augustine from his Confessions:
“We are inflamed, by Thy Gift we are kindled; and are carried upwards; we glow inwardly, and go forwards. We ascend Thy ways that be in our heart, and sing a song of degrees; we glow inwardly with Thy fire, with Thy good fire, and we go; because we go upwards to the peace of Jerusalem: for gladdened was I in those who said unto me, We will go up to the house of the Lord. There hath Thy good pleasure placed us, that we may desire nothing else, but to abide there for ever.”
Let us pray: Jesus, we thank You for the blessings of the Holy Ghost which rain upon us unceasingly. We pray that, in striving for perfect understanding, we may be blessed with that which passeth understanding. We pray the Holy Ghost may visit our community here and now, and abide in our hearts no matter where our bodies are. Amen.