November 20, 2017

Jesus Poured Out the Spirit — So What? (3)

Ascension. Photo by Birger Hoppe

Note from CM: This week, on Monday through Wednesday, we are focusing on the meaning of Pentecost and the coming of the Spirit. Last week, we spoke about the Ascension and presented it as the climax and culmination of the gospel of King Jesus. The Ascension was when Jesus was enthroned with God in the heavenly realms, and then Pentecost represents his first action as King. On this day he fulfilled his promise to send the Holy Spirit to indwell and empower his people. What was the significance of this act? What implications does this have for our lives as Christians today?

• • •

Jesus Poured Out the Spirit — So What?
Part Three

…the fruit of the Spirit is love…

• Galatians 5:22

In both Protestant and Catholic theology and devotion, there is a tendency to view the Holy Spirit solely as the Spirit of redemption. Its place is the church, and it gives men and women the assurance of the eternal blessedness of their souls. This redemptive Spirit is cut off both from bodily life and from the life of nature. It makes people turn away from ‘this world’ and hope for a better world beyond. They then seek and experience in the Spirit of Christ a power that is different from the divine energy of life, which according to the Old Testament ideas interpenetrates all the living.

• Jürgen Moltmann. The Spirit of Life

What does it look like when a person is filled with the Holy Spirit? What is the experience? Is it capable of being described? Assuming that, in some sense, it is “supernatural” — that is, something from God that breaks in upon us, and not merely some humanly produced experience, does it carry any marks that distinguish it as such?

Pentecostal and Charismatic groups have always thought so, and have insisted, in a variety of ways, on the unmistakable evidence of the Spirit’s blessing in certain signs and wonders — speaking in tongues, ecstatic experiences, dreams and visions, prophecies, healings, exorcisms, and so on. On quieter days, people in these groups expect God to “speak” to them, to answer prayers in discernible ways, to lead them to make decisions or solve problems in ways that reveal God’s wisdom in a way that could not be attributed to mere human wisdom. In worship, they expect definable “breakthroughs” with God through the Spirit, penetrating inner barriers and drawing them closer into an intimate relationship with the Lord. They expect the Spirit to “anoint” their leaders and preachers so that God’s Word will come forth in power to do supernatural works in people’s lives.

They point to the ministry of Jesus and to the book of Acts, and posit that the Spirit-empowered “miracles” described in those days are normative for the church in all ages. If the church had enough faith, the Spirit would shape the church today to look like it did back then. Miracles and wonders would be commonplace, the church would triumph in Jesus’ name, and soon the entire planet would be overwhelmed with the mighty works of God!

I am no cessationist, but I’ve never been convinced that the enthusiasts get it quite right. It feels to me like they are missing something central and vital to the discussion, just like the Corinthians did.

But they are not alone. Except for the cessationists, who want to limit the Spirit’s work to words we read off the pages of a book, most Christians I know have the particular idea that whatever the Spirit does and whatever the experience of being filled with the Spirit is like, it must be something distinctively different, something so out of the ordinary that it can only be explained by pointing to the sky and saying, “Only God could do this.”

I beg to differ. I think that misses the main point of what God is trying to do through this whole sending Jesus and sending the Spirit thing. You see…

  • The real point, the ultimate goal, is new creation.
  • The real point is people becoming fully human together in a world of justice and peace.
  • The real point is people displaying the untarnished image of God once more and becoming faithful stewards of creation.
  • The real point is people learning to love.

If that’s the point, then in my opinion much of the time the work of the Spirit is going to look more mundane than miraculous. If I am filled with the Spirit, I’m going to look like a kind, neighborly, responsible, generous, sacrificial, thoughtful human being. As Moltmann says, it will be about having a human vitality that participates fully in human life rather than a spirituality that is life-denying and separate from ordinary human experience.

That may not look a great deal different from my non-Christian neighbor, who is also a mature and caring person. But that’s exactly my point. The Spirit has not come so much to set me apart as a Christian, but to make me more engaged with and connected to the human race. And I must believe that, somehow, even though he or she does not recite the same Creed as I do on Sundays, that the Spirit is somehow also at work in and with my kindly neighbor.

Christians do not have a monopoly on God or on how to live as human beings. But Jesus has poured out the Spirit so that we might know God’s love in our hearts and share down-to-earth, practical acts of love with our fellow human beings, thus participating in the best aspects of what it means to be human, in anticipation of what’s to come.

• • •

Photo by Birger Hoppe at Flickr. Creative Commons License

Comments

  1. Robert F says:

    A couple of implications:

    — God transforms the world by the work of his Spirit; he does not wait for the church to take the initiative.

    — The church does not have to lead the world, since God is already doing that (and the church has not been good at it anyway). Instead, the church should be attentive to the places in the world where the Spirit of Life and liberation is already at work, and allow the Spirit’s work in those places to lead it. This includes social, psychological, artistic and political, and religious, arenas.

    — The church can serve as the body in which forgiveness and reconciliation are extended to its members and anyone in the world who seeks them or is in need of them. This should be our specialty as church, though by no means does that require that these things do not happen outside the body; but we should major in this, and it should regulate our inner life as church and our relationship to the world. We give what Christ gave us, and told us to extend to the rest of the world.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      I am good with all the above. It is pretty much where I am at.

      I also cannot deny it is a position open to easy criticism. It hovers delicately in the space between being An Answer and being A Hand Wave or bowl of Word Salad.

      • Robert F says:

        >I also cannot deny it is a position open to easy criticism. It hovers delicately in the space between being An Answer and being A Hand Wave or bowl of Word Salad.

        Yes, but then, something similar could be said about Christian faith in its entirety.

  2. Robert F says:

    Another implication: It is not always a bad thing when the church is changed by its experience of the Spirit at work in the world; in fact, it’s necessary if the church is to be truly a living body.

  3. Susan Dumbrell says:

    So when I pray, ‘Forgive me for I have sinned’, of whom am I asking forgiveness?
    To whom is my prayer directed?
    Does the church on earth have this power to forgive my sins or am I reliant on the Godhead in all its forms to look on me and say “Forgiven”. If so who else on this earth hears this pronouncement and agrees and sets me free?
    Mostly no one. People of earth holds us bounden longer before they forgive us. Such is human nature.

    • StuartB says:

      If the curtain in the Temple was ripped, doesn’t that imply that a priestly caste is no longer necessary or even empowered to forgive sins/speak for the Godhead?

      Of course, the silence from the Godhead is an issue…which is why many trust in a closed canon. But the Godhead is not really silent, are they? They still speak, they just don’t do it audibly or through mouthpieces…if they ever actually did, which I’m tending to lean towards finally reluctantly accepting nowadays.

      • In Christ I am forgiven, but it is the priest who reassures me it is so with the incarnate wonder of touch – whether the sign of the cross on the head or the occasional hug when it has been really bad.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          The priest therefore provides a helpful service to you (but is not required).

  4. Paul mcguire says:

    Great post CM and I appreciate your ideas of what a spirit filled Christian and church should be like.

  5. Pentecostals have probably done as much harm as good in bringing about understanding of God’s Holy Spirit. They may be gaining in understanding themselves, I don’t know, I haven’t been to a Pentecostal service in thirty years. A major hindrance they came up with was the doctrine of speaking in tongues as EVIDENCE of what they called the baptism in the Holy Spirit. This is extremely misleading and it was causing problems back when I was involved. It is true that speaking in tongues is mentioned in Acts and the Pauline letters as associated with the Holy Spirit. It gets fuzzy if you start looking at this as a requirement of some sort. There is a huge distinction between private and public utterance in tongues which is rarely noted. If Paul found praying in tongues to be useful for himself, the next question might be why wouldn’t you? However Paul discouraged Pentecostal shenanigans in public service which were already going on in the early church. In the little Foursquare Church I attended, the operative guideline was everything to be done decently and in order, which pretty much covers most of it. In any case, speaking in tongues is a human phenomenon not confined to Pentecostals or even Christians, but mostly found there. I personally find centered meditation to be much more effective, but if I do choose to pray in tongues, I want the certitude of knowing exactly where that prayer is heading and that the line of communication is secure. The world of the supernatural has an abundance of rabbit holes leading to the Astral realms and you do not want to go there. Why anyone would choose to walk thru this world not hand in hand with the Holy Spirit is way beyond me, but there you are.

    Another point of contention the Pentecostals have left us with is so called miracles. It should be obvious to anyone that God intervening into the natural world in spectacular ways was part of the changeover into the Messianic Church Age we are still living in. This wasn’t magic and it obviously was not meant to be normative because it tapered off considerably after getting everyone’s attention for the announcement of the new age. Anyone thinking it stopped altogether needs Superglue on their eyelids to keep them shut that tight. Again we are dealing with the human need for evidence, and the evidence given by the Holy Spirit is mostly an internal matter that can not be transferred easily from person to person. And again, miracles are not confined to Christians, and may have little or nothing to do with God in action. This does not mean that God can’t or won’t intervene in the natural world, but this is not something at our beck and call, or a magical ability like Simon the Sorcerer wanted to buy from Peter. Receiving God’s Holy Spirit does not force you to become Benny Hinn. God doesn’t force you to do anything against your will.

    As far as I can see, signing on with Jesus on this planet is like being given an all expense paid scholarship to the most prestigious school in the universe and you are given your own private tutor and mentor you can access 24/7. As far as I can see, most Christians reject the tutor and use the stipend to party, while attending class more or less dutifully enough to hopefully get a diploma some day. The only thing worse than going blind I can think of would be being a quadriplegic. If for some reason I was given the choice between losing this secure 24/7 means of communication between me and God, and becoming blind and paralyzed, it would be a no brainer, and I could keep on with my assignment and improve on it, just without the pleasure of walking and observing Mother Nature at work. I simply can’t imagine being confined to the words of the Bible and the words of some human being who supposedly knows more than me and God put together. That would be a religion, and without God’s Spirit, any religion would be as good as any other. Which is mostly what I see when I look at the Christian Church today in the west. It’s not as if you have to climb Mt. Everest in order to find the Spirit of Jesus, it’s more like opening a door to a knock. Jesus said, “Receive the Spirit,” and here we are like a bunch of Philadelphia lawyers arguing over the fine print.

    • “signing on with Jesus on this planet is like being given an all expense paid scholarship to the most prestigious school in the universe and you are given your own private tutor and mentor you can access 24/7. As far as I can see, most Christians reject the tutor and use the stipend to party”

      It doesn’t help when the tutor *doesn’t talk*.

      • flatrocker says:

        or maybe he is talking, we’re just nursing a hangover and not in a mood to listen.

        • If anything, I would postulate that American Christians have a hard time hearing God because we are so rich and self-sufficient.

          • flatrocker says:

            So we be doin’ that par-tay thang.
            The hangover comes tomorrow but that’s a long, long way off.
            Either way, all that listening stuff is just getting in the way.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      –> “As far as I can see, most Christians reject the tutor and use the stipend to party…”

      I’m not so sure that’s what’s going on. I think it’s more like what happened with the Galatians. They love the tutor, they know the tutor is necessary, but they don’t think he’s SUFFICIENT. So they either add to what the tutor is telling them, believing that it will IMPROVE what the tutor is telling them, or they go back to the rules, where they can point and say, “I’m being holy, how about you?!”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      My observation of Pentecostals is that they are obsessed with Tongues Tongues Tongues Tongues Tongues Tongues and Tongues. And with a high of supernatural experiences in general. Like they’re trying to prove that God Exists with miracle after miracle after miracle.

      Which sets them up for a BIG crash once all the hype wears off or their winning streak comes to an end. Like a Prosperity Gospel type who falls on hard times and those hard times don’t get better.

      And before that crash, the “I’m So Holy, How About You?” one-upmanship. Like Neo-Cals with their Perfectly Parsed Theology, Calvary Chapelites with their SCRIPTURES, Trad Catholics with their Tridentine Latin Mass. Can’t anybody just live their lives?

      • Stbndct says:

        Hug, I assume you have never spoke in tounges ? Bash what you have never experienced . What a way to live life !!!!!

    • I agree with you as best I can. I walked away from a church that taught me so much because the emphasis on healing, signs and wonders was just getting to be too much. It wasn’t as noticeable to me early on as it became to be exaggerated years into it. The one younger man I got involved with on street stuff ( just because ministry is now a stretch for me) Would actually badger someone until they would smile and say yes I feel better now. Go home and write a testimony on how this man was healed. Feels a lot like lying and hurt me enough to walk away.

      Never thought God needed my help by me being exaggerating. Whether little or big things he is quite capable to me. I speak in tongues…..Not so much anymore but on occasion and I’m always alone and it is my time. I don’t pray as much now either except for my furry friends I prefer to be alone mostly. I have seen things that I can’t explain and have seen workings of the Spirit that actually healed people. Not me. I didn’t do it…… I just listened and asked but it wasn’t me I knew I didn’t do it because…..go ahead fill in the blank. I’m not so Holy as I do so many things wrong and think things that aren’t of Him and I’m almost sure I have never gone a day without sinning either by thought or action. Thank God for the comforter who partakes of and gives from. I’m sure this place would be unbearable to me.

      Chap says above as he shares what it is for him about being this and that. I’m not him. I don’t like company so much. People are as a whole obnoxious and they don’t know it. I like to sit and be quiet and wish to go be alone mostly when in a situation where I have become captive to dinner or anything as a whole that requires I have to entertain people. Jesus went to the mountain as was his custom to be alone. I sneak over to fix the neighbors so and so. I want no thanks. I shovel the neighbors and I want no thanks. I’ll do just about anything for anyone I want no thanks. Just because it should be this way. Please just let me go and be alone This is who I am and just as I can’t judge I don’t want to be judged. Only one has that right. These knees will bow and the treasures of the trials will be laid before His throne……..

      • Sorry I was responding to Charles…..One more thing about the church I was attending as they would time at the end for healing everyone who had aches and pain would have gain and raise their hands. The ones in wheel chairs sat alone. Not around me. I always saw them and I would go and hold their hands and be with them. I so much wanted for them. Never would they be called forward for us all to be with. I couldn’t stand it as it would break my heart. Not me I would call them and whether they were or weren’t and after I would go to the mountain to be alone.

  6. Rick Ro. says:

    –> “If I am filled with the Spirit, I’m going to look like a kind, neighborly, responsible, generous, sacrificial, thoughtful human being.”

    Galatians 5:22-23…”But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

    I try to examine myself daily and hourly, in every interaction, whether with family, friends, strangers, enemies or annoying persons, to see if I am bearing fruit of the Spirit. I fail a lot, alas, but at least I’m looking in the mirror.

    I had a humbling epiphany about a year ago that I bear more fruit of the Spirit with friends and strangers than with my own family. I’ve been working hard at trying to correct that within my home.

    • StuartB says:

      Galatians 5:22-23…”But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

      I much prefer this as evidence of the holy spirit (or even more broadly, a spirit of Christ) than dog barking, praying in tongues, walking on water, supernatural healings, teleportations, astral projections, magic missile slingings, prayer walkings, floating hammers, water coming from rocks, suns standing still, dead being raised, gold dust appearing on the ceiling, prophetic visions, strongman dreaming, leg growing, seed sowing…magical fantasies.

      Reality is so much better. Especially if it really all came from God.

      • Rick Ro. says:

        A friend of mine says that the miracle at the feeding of the 5,000 wasn’t that so little food was turned into so much, but it was that people shared what they had.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      During my encounters with Pentecostals, when asked the pre-laying-on-of-hands question “which Gift of the Spirit do you want?” (as if you’re the deciding factor), I’d always go “Wisdom” instead of the usual answer of “Tongues”. Because Wisdom is the command control over all the others, telling you when & where to use them (and more important, when NOT to).

  7. What I see as the main valid sticking point in people’s reluctance to accept Jesus’ incredibly generous gift of Spirit is the human failure to distinguish between the promptings of Spirit and the promptings of ego. It is really only in the last twenty-five years or so that this has even become a topic for discussion, and as far as I can see most of this discussion has occurred outside the Christian church proper. A good introduction familiar to most here might be Thomas Merton with his distinction between the higher and lower self, but he is already fifty years behind the cutting edge in this exploration. The main problem in sorting this out as I see it is the insistence of sophisticated educated modern thinking people on using the intellect as the main tool of investigation while completely failing to recognize that the intellect is just a part of the ego. This throws wide open the door for bamboozlement to enter.

    Just as the Bible states, the gifts of the Spirit are many and varied, depending on the particular person and particular need of the moment, but in general one thing that seems available to all is discernment, and by that I mean spiritual discernment, not intellectual discernment. While I say this is available to all, you sure can’t prove this by looking at people. I made my way out of the Pentecostal world by slowly recognizing that much of what I was seeing in visual effects was in fact people’s ego at work. I didn’t understand it in those terms at the time, but it became quite evident that, for example, speaking in tongues was as often evidence of spiritual ego at work as it was evidence of God’s Spirit at work. Paul makes it plain that when a word of prophecy is given, that “the others” are supposed to evaluate the genuineness of the word. He doesn’t specify just who these “others” are, I would assume others operating at that same level of spiritual awareness, but in any case I have never seen this done in a church. But I have seen a lot that I privately considered prompted by religious ego, and I consider this a major failing of the Pentecostal Church. I was never asked my take on things and never directed to give it, and eventually just moved on, taking this growing sense of discernment with me. I cannot imagine trying to sort all this out without it, and especially by using the intellect alone. Might do better using the Magic 8 Ball.

    So how do you get this sense of discernment? All I can say is that for me it came with the package, and the package that was given by God, not the package offered by the Pentecostal Church, tho they provided the classroom for the early years. It probably helped that I have always been highly sensitive to bamboozlement, including by myself, but still and all this should be available to all who have dethroned their ego in deference to Jesus. I’m not sure how many might be included in that. Mostly here the sound of egos is like a hundred ducks quacking in a small pond. The ego is fiercely resistant to dethronement, would often rather die than give in. The only power stronger than the human ego is the Spirit of God, and here we are arguing over why the Spirit of God can be detrimental to human health.

    The ability to discern light from dark is becoming crucial these days as the Dark Side brings out ever increasing measures of desperation and deception in the ongoing battle while most people are entranced in the Punch and Judy show. There is far more understanding of this outside the Christian Church than within, and there is growing recognition that spiritual discernment needs a lot of work to keep up. You don’t have to be a Christian to have good spiritual discernment, but in my experience the surest way thru is on the path offered by Jesus, which does not necessarily equate to the path offered by the church on the corner. Maybe the main objection in the west and here is, what if I open the door to the knock and it turns out to be the Boogeyman? Sort of a Catch 22, if you had Spirit on your side you might discern this as a ploy of the ego to stay in control, but you don’t have Spirit on your side until you open the door. I dunno, do you trust Jesus more than you love your ego? Maybe not. But what happens when you open the door? I dunno, it’s different for everyone. Why don’t you find out? But I’m afraid. Well, Spirit can help with that. Those original disciples were pretty much risk takers.

    • “the human failure to distinguish between the promptings of Spirit and the promptings of ego… much of what I was seeing in visual effects was in fact people’s ego at work.”

      That is the core of the Reformation/Reformed criticism of charismatic manifestations in a nutshell.

      ” Paul makes it plain that when a word of prophecy is given, that “the others” are supposed to evaluate the genuineness of the word. He doesn’t specify just who these “others” are, I would assume others operating at that same level of spiritual awareness, but in any case I have never seen this done in a church.”

      “Same level of spiritual awareness”? How about just any selection of locally available Christians, charismatic or no?

      • >> “Same level of spiritual awareness”? How about just any selection of locally available Christians, charismatic or no?

        Just as people can be lined up in order by height or by IQ, people can be sorted out by levels of spiritual awareness. Perhaps this is offensive to you, but that doesn’t change reality. It has nothing to do with some people being more valuable than others or more loved by God. It is simply a matter of differing abilities. If there was going to be a nuclear plant built half a mile from where you live, would you rather that it be designed and built by the most respected nuclear physicists and engineers from MIT, or the first ten people to walk in the door off the street?

        • “Just as people can be lined up in order by height or by IQ, people can be sorted out by levels of spiritual awareness”

          Soooo… who gets to do the sorting?

          • Soooo… who gets to do the sorting?

            Well, for a start, probably not people filled with arrogance and contempt for others and an inflated assessment of their own worth.

            For a second start, let’s start with someone most of us could agree on as having a high level of spiritual awareness and humility, Francis of Assisi. I would wager you could put Francis in a room with a hundred people and in an hour, if not much sooner, he could single out the ten most likely able to follow his vision and help others to attain it. Not saying he couldn’t make a mistake, just saying that he would likely be much better at it than you or I. And if Francis isn’t available, go with the best that consensus comes up with. Yes, we can be fooled, but common people are actually fairly astute at this if their minds aren’t poisoned with cynicism or agendas or ideology.

            And there are objective measurements available that you would probably neither recognize nor call objective, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be used as a valid assessment tool in the right hands. Again I would expect your retort to be, who determines the right hands, and all I can say is I really don’t want to ride on your merry-go-round, there are serious matters afoot.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Soooo… who gets to do the sorting?

            That hat at Hogwarts?
            (Good as any…)

    • SottoVoce says:

      If you can tell me, specifically, how you know when the Spirit is talking to you, you will be the first Christian I have ever met who can do so. If it’s so important that we be able to hear and discern God’s voice from our ego, why are my friends and family incapable of telling me how they know? Shouldn’t a good God be capable of communicating unambiguously, without playing games?

      So how do you know, Charles? Particular emotions or physical sensations?

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        “””how you know when the Spirit is talking to you”””

        That’s the question.

        “””why are my friends and family incapable of telling me how they know?”””

        I’ve had way to much experience to trust people’s “intuition”. Including a very ornery and impatient missionary insisting she is not “called” to minister to “those people”. Or another missionaries insistence, who borrowed an automobile and refused to return it, that their need was higher than that of the owners.

        Mr. Basic Civility meet the brick wall of Spiritual Led and The Called.

        That is not even touching on the issue of what this type of Theology does when handed to the mentally ill.

        This spirit-whispering theology is disastrous, poisonous, and ultimately nonsense..

        “”” Shouldn’t a … God be capable of communicating unambiguously, without playing games?”””

        +1,000,000,000,000

        • Rick Ro. says:

          –> “Or another missionaries insistence, who borrowed an automobile and refused to return it, that their need was higher than that of the owners.”

          Please tell me you’re making that up…

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            Nope, it happened.

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

              Passes the “You think I could make up [skubalon] like this?” test.

              Too over-the-top crass to be fiction.

      • >> Shouldn’t a good God be capable of communicating unambiguously, without playing games?

        Absolutely, it is people who play games. However if you are insisting that truth not contain ambiguity you are already off on the wrong foot and most likely have never read the whole Bible. The certainty of God is sensed in the heart. My impression is that your sense of reality is centered in your head and involves physical and material senses. You can demand that God bow to your sense of reality all you want, I’ll bet it won’t happen, tho I could be wrong. I would say you would be closer to what you are looking for if you tried moving from your head down into your heart. Be warned, it ain’t all that easy.

        • “if you are insisting that truth not contain ambiguity you are already off on the wrong foot and most likely have never read the whole Bible. The certainty of God is sensed in the heart. My impression is that your sense of reality is centered in your head and involves physical and material senses.”

          We are physical and material beings. Even our spirituality is intimately tied up with our brain functions. How else should we find expression for these things?

          • >> We are physical and material beings.

            Eeyore, I know you sincerely believe this but just because you state this as a fact does not make it one. We are spiritual beings temporarily housed in a body we like to call physical, and that is our classroom setting for this go around. What we choose to do with this is entirely up to us and there is a final exam. If you want to see what it looks like to deal with this assignment as best humanly possible, look to Jesus. If you want to give it your best shot yourself, follow him in the power and enablement of his Holy Spirit. If you want no part of this open offer, go your own way in peace, and God bless you.

            • You really ought to go back over the prior posts here on the implications of resurrection. What you are describing is perilously close to Gnosticism. Small-o orthodoxy has always held that the parting of body and soul is meant to be eventually undone in resurrection. We were and are always meant to be “physically-housed” spiritual beings.

              • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

                I concur. Resurrection of the Body has already been largely eclipsed by Fluffy Cloud Heaven, People by Souls(TM); why encourage it more?

                It was the PLATONISTS who were known for that sort of Dualism, where the body was a filthy prison for the Immortal Soul and would eventually be shed, good riddance. (JMJ/Christian Monist keeps returning to this Platonic Dualism as being a major problem among Christians.)

                In Medieval theology, the existence of a separate “soul” existing in an “intermediate state” between death and Resurrection solved the problem of ensuring continuity of individual person between the current life and Olam-ha-ba, but that intermediate state ended up growing out of control until we returned to the Platonists.

                • Robert F says:

                  Belief in an intermediate state between death and resurrection was not a product of medieval theology. From very early in its history, from the time of the church Fathers, the church came to believe that the martyrs and the deceased saints were conscious, active agents in the affairs of the world, and that they could be invoked in prayer for their intercession. If true, that would mean that they must have a continued, self-aware, very much active existence after death and before the resurrection. It was from very early in the Patristic period that church embraced belief in such an intermediate state. It would be natural enough for the idea to quickly develop that this state had for its home heaven, since that’s the abode of God.

                  • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

                    Whatever the origin (and I can see how it makes sense, to preserve continuity for the individual if nothing else), it ended up taking over the Christian afterlife (which diffused into mainstream culture).

        • Ronald Avra says:

          I have been ill, ill enough to forget that I can increase the font size while reading theses posts, and all of you have been wordy. I’m just catching up to you. As a matter of full disclosure, I would like to acknowledge that I am a ‘closet’ pentecostal, and that my experience broadly parallels Charle’s. Now, I am going to decrease the font size, and go back into the closet with my bottle of ibuprofen. Good day.

        • SottoVoce says:

          I asked you a question, and unsurprisingly, you have not answered it. How do you know when God is speaking to you? How does it manifest? What does it feel like to sense certainty in the heart? I’d really and sincerely like to know what I should have been looking for.

          And nice try on the “gotcha,” but I have actually read the entire Bible from cover to cover. *wink*

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            +1

          • Ron Avra says:

            Back out of closet briefly. It is something that is heavily linked to personal experience and is a learned skill. It greatly resembles working with brass fittings in running plumbing or tubing. If you are working with steel pipe in running a gas line, you can put your full weight on the pipe with a wrench and it will take it, whereas when you are working with brass you have to acquire a sense, most likely in your wrist, of how much torque the fitting can take. Most likely you will destroy at least one fitting in the process.

            • SottoVoce says:

              I appreciate the response, but I’m not really seeing how that physical metaphor translates into inner spiritual knowing. What are the signs that you’ve got it right or wrong? Your feelings? How circumstances work out? Something else?

              • Ron Avra says:

                Something of a triangulation within your personal devotions, the general experience of tradition, and the faith community you are involved in. A consideration of your immediate personal circumstances also may come into play. Best characterized perhaps by a sense of contentment and security that may in fact transcend the immediate environment. It moves beyond empiricism and has a significant component of mysticism. The reason that I am in this position is very likely because God mounted a direct assault on my devotion to the empirical method. You are making me work harder than I wanted to.

              • Rick Ro. says:

                I’m not sure your questions can be answered in any concrete, definable terms that will satisfy you. A person like myself might answer “You know it when you feel it,” but any attempt to quantify it or define it more concretely will fall flat.

                • SottoVoce says:

                  “It’s a feeling” is an answer, of a sort. I agree that feelings are notoriously difficult to convey to other people. So how did you figure out that this particular feeling that cannot be quantified or defined and therefore is difficult to correlate with other people’s experiences of God speaking was, in fact, God speaking? Did he tell you to do something and it worked out, for example?

                  And Ron, I’m not making you do anything. If you’re not feeling well, please take of yourself and don’t feel compelled to respond.

                  • Rick Ro. says:

                    I believe I’ve heard Jesus talk to me (almost audibly) four times. The first time was before I was a Christian, in the middle of a dorm lobby watching Monday Night Football. He said, “Follow me” to such an extent that I actually looked around at the people around me to see if they’d spoken. After a few days of wondering what that was all about, I ended up ignoring the voice.

                    Five years later, I heard that same exact voice speak to me while at an apartment with a friend. It was the same basic “Follow me.” This time, I didn’t ignore the voice (many reasons led me to listen this time, which I won’t go into). That was when I began my Christian walk, going on 31 years now. Wow.

                    Third time, while at a Starbucks, I heard him say, “Coffee shop ministries.” I’ve ignored lesser promptings for me to do things in the past, but this time I actually began to pursue what he meant with that statement. About two years later (yes, it took that long to have this come to fruition), two pastors and I began a humble little coffee shop ministry in lower lever of our church. Though the two pastors have since moved on, I’m still there, 6 years later, running the thing.

                    Fourth time was this past December. It was a clear message to deliver a statement of love to two complete strangers who are in the midst of some dark stuff. I tried several different avenues to deliver his message, with no luck. I’m still praying. I believe God has told me, “Rick, I’ve got them. You can keep praying for them, but they’re mine.” I still pray about them, and this “action,” just because it seems like the right thing to do.

                    I once had what I believe the Holy Spirit give me the weirdest “premonition” about something (a home run hit during a playoff baseball game) moments before it happened. That was extremely weird. I haven’t had any other clear premonitions since.

                    So there are some concrete things that I can point to, but they may not seem concrete to you or others.

                  • SottoVoce says:

                    Take care of yourself, I mean.

            • What you say is truth Ron. Thanks for the wonderful testimony. After 40 plus years of grouting I can gout in the dark by knowing. It would pass but not be my finest hour. I only see through dimly and at times really unclear but then it will be face to face. Closer now than ever. Sick as hell. Saturday couldn’t move except the cats on the mountain and wasn’t sure I’d make it. Sunday wasn’t going to go but a dream about animals gave me the I have to. Today got out of bed at 5 30 PM fed the cats seem better. Hope you get well soon.

          • SV, if you have read the Bible in its entirety and find no ambiguity in it, I can only say there is little likelihood that we could ever find ourselves on the same page in any sort of discussion. First off, you seem to assume that everyone communicates with God in the same way, which is at the opposite end of the reality, which is that God communicates with open hearts individually and uniquely, as befits our status as individual and unique children of His. I may find points of correspondence with some people’s experience and not with others, but this is beside the point. What I would expect would be common agreement that to the degree that you find yourself in the Presence of God, you simply know this with your being. It is not a matter of proof or measurement. People communicate with God all thruout the Bible, sometimes thru blazing fire, sometimes face to face as a man, sometimes thru a donkey. You should know this if you’ve actually read the Bible and stop asking for some one size fits all experience. Seek God if you want to know Him and He will meet you wherever you are if you are sincere. Maybe you’ll get bells and whistles to report, I didn’t, mostly just a very quiet voice beyond auditory limits. People heard God speak to Jesus and thought it was distant thunder. You could try insisting on bells and whistles and see what happens, but you can’t get there from here on someone else’s experience. If you want to know where to start looking, go quiet for twenty minutes and look within.

    • Dana Ames says:

      “It is really only in the last twenty-five years or so that this has even become a topic for discussion…”

      Uh, Charley, take a gander at St Isaac of Nineveh’s work, from the 700s. Also, St Symeon the New Theologian, c. 1000. They don’t use the word “ego” the way we understand it, but they surely understood the same thing you’re talking about. Don’t know for sure, but I have a hunch Merton was probably familiar with them to some degree. St Isaac was very well known among monastics in the west rather soon after his death, and they appreciated his writings for a very long time.

      Ecstatic actions and utterances are not the norm in the east; neither is bare intellectualism. Emotions are seen as a property of the intellect; all is to be held together in integrity, with the heart/nous – the faculty with which we encounter and experience God – keeping all of the rest in sober balance. Emotions are more present in the writings of people like St Symeon, and in our day Elder Sophrony, but in meeting Fr Sophrony, you wouldn’t have considered him to be “overly emotional”, from what I understand. Probably the most significant evidence in the eastern view of knowing that a person is on the right track in experiencing the Holy Spirit is that that person has rather freely flowing spontaneous tears while in prayer – presumably from a) knowing the truth about oneself that impels one to turn to Christ, and b) love for people, and the desire for them to be united to Christ.

      The Orthodox are not cessationists. We believe God can give dreams and foreknowledge and all the rest of it to people whose lives have been oriented toward quiet holiness, but everyone who believes they have received something like that from God needs to check in with a trusted spiritual mentor before acting on any of it, because it may just be ego, or it may be something the enemy wants to use to derail us. “Miracles” are generally kept rather quiet, shared mainly with one’s priest and fellow congregants, occasionally with the clergy at a place like the Russian cathedral in San Francisco, where the remains of St John of Shanghai and San Francisco are kept. Pretty much nobody outside of Orthodoxy knows about the effectiveness of St John’s prayers, or about something like the myrrh-streaming Hawaiian Iveron icon, a paper print glued on particleboard that has continuously exuded a very strong rose-fragranced aloe vera-type substance since 2007. There is no physical or chemical explanation for the material or its scent, or that the paper print should long ago have disintegrated but has not. I have been in its presence, and I accept it as a sign of love and encouragement from our Lord and his mother. We thank God for such things, and continue to go to church, say our prayers, fast and do what we can for the care of the poor, asking God – as we do in every Liturgy – to send down upon us the gift/grace (same word in Greek) of the Holy Spirit. I find this completely refreshing, consistent with One Reality.

      Dana

      • >> They don’t use the word “ego” the way we understand it . . .

        Yes, that was my intended point, Dana. It is only in the past roughly twenty-five years that we have begun to switch over from religious jargon to something more familiar and meaningful to 21st century people, thus “ego” rather than soul or lesser self or even worse, flesh. And “ego” is not the perfect solution either as it carries a lot of hundred year old Freudian baggage. What I find the most crucial point to understand and start with is that we are not our ego, we have an ego just as we have a body assigned for this particular session, and the ego needs to be overcome and transformed, not destroyed, by our God Self. And the ego violently reacts against this assault on its sovereignty and control and very survival. Older times understood these things more in terms of souls under attack from demonic forces, which is true enough from that perspective but not well received in 21st century understanding, and I do not find them nearly as helpful as the best of cutting edge western teaching, such as Richard Rohr or David R. Hawkins. I’m sure you know that most of my remarks here are directed toward the western world and not meant to impugn the eastern understanding. It would be a lonely place for me here without you and Mule around. ~Charley

        • Dana Ames says:

          I differ with this only in use of certain terminology 🙂

          Thanks Charley – It sounds like you have your own little monastic hermitage there with your property. May the Lord grant you good use of it in every way.

          There are some videos of Fr Stephen floating around out there. I think you would enjoy Bishop Alexander (Golitzin) too – I’m in the middle of watching his right now 🙂

          D.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        …something like the myrrh-streaming Hawaiian Iveron icon, a paper print glued on particleboard that has continuously exuded a very strong rose-fragranced aloe vera-type substance since 2007. There is no physical or chemical explanation for the material or its scent, or that the paper print should long ago have disintegrated but has not.

        During one of his interviews regarding “Game of Thrones”, author George R R Martin (AKA “The Great Bearded Glacier”) said that in actual Medieval tales (that he used as a source for Westeros), magic in those stories was actually very subtle, without great spectacular fireballs of overt power. His specific example (from memory) sounded a lot like your description of the longevity and aroma of the Iveron icon. Maybe Miracles are similar to those old tales of magic — blink-or-you-miss-it subtlety instead of in-your-face mile-high flaming letters in the sky spectacle.

        • Dana Ames says:

          In actual Medieval times, reality was known and experienced as One Thing – no huge split between “the miraculous” and ordinary life. Of course such instances would be “subtle.”

          (Although the fragrance of the Iveron icon is not all that subtle – five minutes after the icon entered our church building, even with all the doors and windows open on a summer evening, it was like being in the middle of an acre full of rose bushes – plus “something more”. Go see her if you ever get the chance; she travels :))

          D.

  8. I am no cessationist, but I’ve never been convinced that the enthusiasts get it quite right.

    Couldn’t have said it better.

  9. Mowing my lawn for the first time since surgery a week ago for triple hernia repair, I kept thinking about all the strident demands to know just what it is like to walk in the Spirit.
    Me: Can I handle this?
    God: Yes, take it easy.
    Me: Okay, should I get in front of the barn.
    God: Yes.
    Me: How about behind the barn?
    God: If you want.
    Me: ?
    God: That’s enough for today.
    Me: What about pressure washing the bird shit off the garage, I forgot that last week.
    God: Save it for tomorrow.

    Please note the absence of angelic choirs, goose bumps, fog machines, and surround sound. You are free to doubt that God spent well over an hour riding on a lawn tractor with me. You are free to believe I am deluded and talking with myself. I would suggest that you not apply God’s advice to me to yourself a week after surgery, and I really fail to see how this can be helpful to anyone, but there you are. I personally believe this is much how Jesus got thru his days during his three and a half year ministry, but have nothing for the evidence demanders.

    Me: Should I send this?
    God: Yes. Good.

  10. Robert F says:

    I have a sense the Holy Spirit is feeling very self-conscious. Maybe she doesn’t like all this attention.

  11. flatrocker says:

    Or maybe she (and he) is smiling in quiet appreciation that we notice what has been there all along. What we do with the recognition comes later. Feeling his (and her) presence is sufficient for now.

    • flatrocker says:

      reply to Robert F. above

    • Robert F says:

      God appreciating us! Now there’s an orthodox thought! That’s almost like saying she’s grateful for us. Since you’re willing to entertain such an unorthodox thought, I’m willing to go along with it. I like it!

  12. flatrocker says:

    common ground is always the most fertile.

  13. Thank you CM. This is very helpful.