Who/What is the Holy Spirit? In the Creed we say the Holy Spirit is “the Lord, the Giver of life,” and we say that the Incarnation occurred “by the Holy Spirit.” The Creed also asserts that it was through the Holy Spirit that God’s word was spoken by the prophets. The relationship between Father and Son is pretty clear in our imaginations, but what do we make of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity?
Thanks to the language and imagery of the accounts of the baptism of Jesus, we are very locked into the vision of the Spirit as a dove—a white bird descending on Jesus as He rises from the Jordan’s waters. But to imagine the Spirit as a dove is as off-point as thinking that the Father is an old man with a long beard… For that matter, we cannot assume we understand the Son (= Second Person of the Trinity) simply by imagining Jesus of Nazareth: after all, Jesus is the Son incarnate, not the Son in Himself. These problems are no doubt why the 10 Commandments prohibited the making of any graven image: they are all bound to be false because incomplete and inadequate.
So what else does the Scripture offer us? Genesis 1:2 speaks of the Spirit of God brooding over the waters, but this Hebrew phrase can equally validly be translated as a “mighty wind.” In fact, the same Hebrew word [ruah] means (depending upon context) wind, or breath, or spirit. This is why Jesus conveys the Holy Spirit to the disciples in the upper room on Easter Sunday evening by breathing on them. Bishops to this day imitate Jesus by breathing into the Holy Chrism at the Chrism Mass, invoking and sending the power of the Spirit into that wonderful anointing oil.
For myself, the idea of moving air attracts me. I think of the Spirit as represented by hurricane-force winds, or by the “still, small voice” that Elijah heard on Mt Horeb (I Kings19:12); by the breath of Jesus in the upper room and by the wind that blows where it wills (as Jesus told Nicodemus—John 3:8). I can feel the Spirit as a calming, cooling breeze in the evening; I can tremble at the Spirit’s gale-force ability; I can long for the feel of the Spirit’s breath on my cheek, like someone close and intimate who loves me and strengthens me (Philippians 4:13). I love the imagery: breeze attracts me strongly because it is a pervasive image—no gale, just a gentle, universal presence. But I love the idea of the “breath of heaven” especially as offered in Amy Grant’s Christmas song of the same name, referring to the Annunciation and Incarnation:
Breath of heaven, Hold me together, Be forever near me, Breath of heaven
Breath of heaven, Lighten my darkness, Pour over me your holiness
For you are holy, Breath of heaven.
Happy Pentecost to everyone: may the breath/breeze/wind/gale/Spirit be always with you!