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Hallo again to all.

A bishop we admire sighed very deeply when he recounted the text he saw on a billboard in the States. 'I really hate it' — giving us pause, for, of all people, this saintly man is entirely disinclined to use such a verb — 'because it's so deeply, deeply flawed theologically. The billboard says, "Don't make me come down there!" Could anything be more contrary to a God Who "came down here" because He loved us so dearly?'Don't make me come down there

'Don't make me come down there!' In our head, we cued ominous music and cut to God as angry parent, clomping down the stairs to confront and punish an unruly child; really, really dodgy theology indeed. But we fret that far too many people would probably find some resonance in that image. And on Pentecost the last thing we want to imagine is a furious dove, screaming through the air, as a symbol of the Third Person of the Holy and Ineffable Trinity. But within our historically decorous Anglican Communion, it's probably more common for us to domesticate the Spirit, treating It as a well-behaved and altogether tame force Whom we invoke from time to time in decent and sober ways. If that's not bad theology (and it likely is), it's not a good idea ever to treat the True and Living God as a budgie in a cage.

There is a wildness about this great feast of the Church that plays on the fringes of Anglican liturgical boundaries. Most of our provinces don't go in for speaking in tongues or being slain in the spirit. Most of us don't wish to be thought of as drunk at 9 o'clock in the morning; and lots of arm waving, too, we'd rather discourage. But in our careful delineation of what is proper for Anglicans in our worship and in our lives, do we err too often on the side of deportment?

The wind attacks in many formsNot for a moment would we easily equate ululating and fainting with an authentic experience of the Spirit. But where is our passion and our purpose, we Anglicans? Sometimes it seems that the passion we can muster is served up (used up?) in the blogosphere and not in our our parishes. And our energies often find release in snarking rather than serving. These are massive generalisations and, as with all such, prone to caricature. Throughout our varied and still vigorous communion, outbreaks of the Holy Spirit — in wild ideas that become extraordinary ventures, edgy new music that dares to be composed and heard, outpourings of unimaginable generosity, day-to-day small kindnesses, startling poetry, unexpected and whole-hearted love — are no doubt occurring. Many of these can't necessarily be perceived straightaway — or ever. A quiet, self-effacing, rather dull-seeming parishioner, in her behind-the-scenes sacrificial work in the food pantry, may be as good an embodiment of the gifts of the Spirit as the most spell-binding preacher.

We worry, though, when outsiders visit our parishes, during worship. It is foolish to presume that the crackle of spiritual energy will hum through every blessed Eucharist, Matins, or Evensong, but sometimes the Anglican pulse of life seems to beat very low. Don't think we're encouraging more appearances of 'Shine, Jesus, Shine!' But some more oomph from time to time in, say, Down Ampney would be welcome.

Perhaps the vigour and energy of some of the great figures and movements of our communion could reinvigorate our tired age. Could we tap into the spirit of the early Oxford Movement? The energy of the men who 'volo episcoparied' and headed out into the wildness of the south seas? The women who chose to think and write and publish when women just didn't do that? How about a little more Veni Sancte Spiritus and a little less snarkiness?

But beware: Invoking the Holy Spirit means playing with fire. To call down — to call upon — our Lord the Spirit, we open up our lives to what we cannot imagine. 'The wind attacks in many forms', an old advert has it, and the Spirit blows where it will. But our Lord the Spirit will never batter down our doors or our hearts; It will only come to us when we call*. Are we ready to do that, as the Great Fifty Days ends and the season of Pentecost bursts open?

Veni Sancte Spiritus


See you next week.


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Last updated: 31 May 2009


*We can indeed block and evade the Spirit — is this that sin against the Holy Ghost? — so we'd best be careful.

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