Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Speechless


There are days and seasons of life that are silent.

They are not silent because they are empty. They are silent because they are full.

They are silent in the way that a ripe piece of fruit hangs on the tree, and weighs down the branch. If the branch could talk, it probably wouldn’t. It hangs there with nothing to say because it is about to burst. Countless future trees are weighing it down and it doesn’t even know it. So, it guards the moment with a deep silence.

Our souls are like that sometimes. Something has filled the soul up and it has run out of words or gestures to express it. It feels full and pregnant but has no idea what sort of thing is struggling to be born. It just knows that an inevitable moment is quickly approaching. All that is hidden inside, already felt but not yet revealed, will soon burst forth.

When a believer passes through a day like this – when his or her soul is full in this way – you can always be certain that the Holy Spirit is at work.
We learned from the Sound of Music that “starting at the very beginning is “a very good place to start.” So, whenever we talk about the Holy Spirit, we should begin there, at the beginning.

In Genesis, chapter one – which is about as close to the beginning as one can get – we read that before creation, “the Spirit of God moved over the face of the waters.”
I once read a rabbi’s commentary about that passage. He claimed that when we read those words, we should think about incubation and fertilization, as when a hen sits on her eggs. He said that the writer of Genesis is picturing the Spirit hovering over the primal stuff just about to be spoken into existence.

The Genesis passage would not be the last time the Spirit would be so depicted in the Bible. In scripture, the Holy Spirit is nearly always linked to some creative act, some great change, some sort of transformation.

For days I have been writing about the sovereign unpredictability and incomprehensibly of the Holy Spirit. I didn’t mean to imply though that we can’t talk about the Holy Spirit at all. I just mean to say that it is difficult to do it with words.

The writers of the scripture also seem linguistically handicapped when it comes to describing the Holy Spirit. However, they employ symbols to describe the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Old Testament uses wind, fire, breath, water and oil. The writers usually invoke these symbols whenever God is about to do something new, unexplainable, powerful and uncontrollable.

Notice how all of those symbols hint at “unstable,” uncontrollable things. Notice how difficult it is to hold onto and define these things.

The prophet Ezekiel, for example, tells about a vision in which the Wind of God revives a field of dead bodies. He tells us how the various body parts came together (you remember the old song: “the foot bone connected to the ankle bone”…) Then, the prophet says, skin formed upon the bodies. Nonetheless, it was still a valley filled with corpses. Only when the prophet spoke to the Wind did the bodies began to breathe and then stand on their feet.

Another great story is about Moses. He saw a bush burning out in the desert. However, the bush was not consumed. When he got closer he heard a voice coming from inside the fire. So asked that fire who he was.

The fire gave the most cryptic, puzzling response in the Bible!

"I am YHWH.”

That didn’t help because YHWH didn’t mean anything to Moses.

Just try to say those letters!

You hear nothing but breath!

Then again...breath is life.

The letters are actually connected to the Hebrew verb ‘to be’. The word to Moses might have meant, “I am what I am,” or perhaps, “I will be what I will be;” or, as one rabbi put it, “it might have been a way of saying, “you wouldn’t believe it if I told you because I am existence itself.”

You wonder what Ezekiel and Moses felt as they approached this moment that would change their life. The Spirit had led them, step by step, to an encounter with God that had been arranged before the world was created. However, they didn’t know that. They think they are just talking a walk. But I think the air must have been pregnant. Something was hovering, brooding, preparing the setting for what was about to occur.

This is the last day in Holy Week before the events begin to rush into the cascade we call the Easter drama.

Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday, the night when Christ instituted the sacraments of Holy Communion and the washing of feet. After that came the arrest in the garden, followed by a night in prison. Beatings, trials, spit and insults made one event seem to flow into the next as the Lord was drug from one place to the other.

Finally came the crown of thorns, the cross and death by crucifixion.
A descent into Hell came next, with its unimaginable horrors and struggles.

Then, the darkness gasped and surrendered to the first real morning the world had
seen since the loss of Eden.

All had seemed lost.

And then, all was won.

The universe had swallowed the medicine that would eventually heal its mortal wound.
All that happened in a fury of activity exploded in merely three days.

On Wednesday though, no human being knew what was about to happen.

A hovering presence covered the pregnant earth, watching over the events below.

He heard the groans from the man in the garden who prayed for relief, as men always do when they are pregnant with the future. The fruit inside Him was ripe. The branch was too heavy to bear.

The Spirit kept His watch.

What was about to happen would open the door of the world. Soon, the Spirit would not merely hover. He would descend like tongues of fire and enter the souls of those about to be birthed by the pregnant man below.

The Man in the garden groans because He doesn’t see all of this yet and so he can no longer speak.

As for me?

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee dearest friend? For this, thy dying sorrow and pity without end?


I will cover my mouth with my hand. I will speak no more.


This indeed is joy unspeakable and full of glory and the half has never yet been told.

1 comment:

Gregory said...

Your blog posts are always such a blessing!