This past Sunday in the church I serve, we had a conversation about the celebration of Pentecost, which signals for us the birth of the church as God sent the Spirit in dramatic fashion.
In the book of Acts, Luke tells us that, when that huge Festival had come, the disciples were all together in one place in the city of Jerusalem. And, suddenly, from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
So, naturally, our Pentecost conversation was swept up in images of crowded rooms and wind and breath.
Did you know the word “conspire” means to breathe together? Take a breath. Now blow it out again. There! If you are sharing space with another person, you have just launched a conspiracy. You can hear the word “spirit” in there too — to conspire — to be filled with the same spirit, to be enlivened by the same wind.
That is why the word appeals to me today. And, in my thinking, the word “conspiracy” badly needs redemption after a few years of its association with malevolent intent and misinformation.
What happens between us when believers come together to worship God is that the Holy Spirit swoops in and out among us, knitting us together and empowering us through the songs we sing, the prayers we offer, the breath we breathe.
It can happen with two people and it can happen with 200. It can scare us or comfort us, confuse us or clarify things for us, but, as far as I can tell, the Holy Spirit never bullies. We are always free to choose whether or how we will respond.
Of all the ways we talk about God, I suppose the Holy Spirit presents the biggest challenge.
Most of us can at least begin to find words for the other two: God the Father, creator of Heaven and Earth, who makes the sun blaze and the rain fall, whose creation reflects God’s nature, majesty and power. God the Son, who became human like us, we describe in the roles of savior, redeemer, teacher, helper, and friend.
But how would you describe God the Holy Spirit to a 5-year-old?
Even Jesus had a hard time with that one. “The Spirit blows where it chooses,” he said in John’s gospel, “and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes (3:8).”
And, if we have a difficult time talking about WHO the Holy Spirit is, we have an equally difficult time talking about our personal experiences of the Spirit.
Many people I know can’t say if they have ever really had an experience of God. At least they can’t articulate how they recognize it. But, when people start talking about their lives, it seems clear to me they have.
They did not have a name for it, so they wrote it off to coincidence or hormones. Just in case you have had some things happen to you that you do not have a name for, I want to suggest at least one way I believe the Holy Spirit blows into our lives.
One breeze of the Spirit is to give people a way back into relationships. Maybe that has happened to you. You are estranged from someone you really care about — because of something you said or did or perhaps you were the one offended — it really does not matter.
The point is, you are tired of it, so you start plotting ways to get through. You draft letters, rehearse phone calls, only none of them sounds right.
You are still hanging on to your hurt or your anger. Then, one day, for no apparent reason, something inside of you says, “Now.” You grab the phone. The person says, “Hello?” And the rest is history.
On both ends, hearts open and the right words come out. A reunion gets underway. You can call that anything you want, but I prefer to call it a breath of God’s Spirit.
I think that’s why the past three years with COVID-19, the threatening respiratory virus that was transmitted by breathing — taking respiration with others present — was culturally and socially so devastating. It separated us. It made us keep a “safe” distance and mask up. And, for all the blessings of Zoom and livestreaming, THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE for gathering and embracing and singing and learning together in actual sanctuaries and classrooms with real people present.
Pentecost hits a nerve for post-pandemic Christians. It’s made us quite aware of just how much we need to breathe together. In the time of the pandemic, breathing together was exactly what we avoided. We didn’t want to infect anyone else or be infected.
Yet the quarantine, as it dragged on — along with all of its financial, psychological, social consequences — the isolation costs us something spiritually, too. We needed Conspiracy — to breathe together — and we were denied it.
So take a breath. Now, just keep breathing. This is God’s moment-by-moment gift to us. We can call it air or we can call it Spirit or we might name it by its Hebrew word, “Ruach.”
Life is a real, live conspiracy where we breathe in and breathe out the Spirit of God — within community, singing, praising, serving, praying. Happy Pentecost.
Warren Hoffman is a 43 year veteran of pastoral ministry and considers himself a native of Alpena. He is married to his ministry partner and beloved, Laura Hoffman.