Early Christians inherited a complex understanding of the Spirit from their Jewish forebears. In its most basic form, the Spirit was divine breath that God shared with Adam (Gn 2:7) and all living beings (Gn 6:3). Every breath is a communion with the Spirit of God (Jb 27:3). With each breath the Spirit flooded the nefesh, a word we translate today as “soul” but that originally meant “throat.” In the throat, the Spirit passed into the blood, where it sustained life and movement. The Spirit remained in the blood even after death. When God said to Cain, “Your brother’s blood calls out to me from the ground,” he was referring to the Spirit within it (Gn 4:10). Kosher regulations forbid the consumption of blood or of animals with crushed throats because these practices profane the Spirit still within.
‘Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.’ (Jn 16:15)
What practices help you encounter the Spirit within?
How has God stirred the Spirit in you to continue Jesus’ mission?
At times God could stir up the Spirit already in a person, or send a special outpouring of the Spirit to confer certain gifts. The Spirit gave Moses and the Israelite elders the wisdom to lead and judge Israel (Nm 11:17). The Spirit transformed Gideon’s fear into courage (Jgs 6:34). The Spirit conferred on David the strength to be king (1 Sm 16:3). The Spirit inspired prophets like Isaiah to speak words that comforted and challenged (Is 61:1). It was the vigor that strengthened unsteady hearts, the gentle whisper that guided minds to wisdom and the divine breath that stirred voices to speak God’s word.
Luke shows us this in the first Pentecost. The disciples in the upper room experienced a flash of insight amid signs and wonders. All at once, they understood Jesus’ mission and their part in it. Their first action was to speak, addressing all the nations gathered in Jerusalem, to whom they proclaimed the mission of Christ. They spoke with boldness, because in the Spirit they had now made that mission their own.
Writing at a later time, John looked deeper into the tradition. The Spirit Christians receive is not a one-time inspiration but a permanent indwelling of the Father’s presence. The divine intimacy that Jesus shared was now open to every Christian. “Everything the Father has is mine,” Jesus tells his disciples, and they will know how to continue the Son’s mission because the Spirit “will take from what is mine and declare it to you” (Jn 16:15).
This guidance continues today. God’s Spirit flows through every heart; and at times, God stirs the Spirit in each person to advance the mission of the Son. These moments are exhilarating and disorienting; in them many feel a desire to live differently and finally discover themselves. The Spirit is at work in someone whose career change disrupts well-laid plans, in the teen who leaves behind childish things to pursue a life’s dream, in the retirees who pour new energy into community projects, in the widower who finds new love or in the pastoral minister who leaves her parish for work in an unknown place. In the community of Christ’s disciples, God’s Spirit is ever at work, transforming creation with new life.