Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people: Eventide Reflections

By Michael Swift, All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church Parishioner

Below is an Eventide Reflection delivered by Michael Swift on Wednesday, May 27

Good evening everyone.  It is wonderful to be with you all in this place.

Today we stand right between Pentecost, which was last Sunday, and Trinity Sunday, which is next Sunday.  So I am departing from the assigned readings for today to talk about the person of the Trinity who is active in Pentecost: the Holy Spirit.

John 14:15-21

Jesus said, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’

Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people.

Isn’t that a wonderful way to end a reading?  “Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people”.   It perfectly encapsulates what the Bible means to an Episcopalian: traditional words come alive, the collected stories of our faith through which the Spirit speaks to us where we are, inspires us as we are, and directs our path in the way we should go.

For me, this is the doctrine of “inspiration of scripture”.  It is not a statement of Biblical inerrancy, or a proclamation of the Bible as literally true and the only reliable source of truth.  It’s simply an expression of this principle: “Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people”.  If you’ll indulge me, let’s dive into some linguistics, and explore the beautiful imagery around this notion.  The phrase “inspiration of scripture” comes directly from Paul’s second letter to Timothy, in which he says, [3:16] “All scripture is inspired by God.”  Let’s look at the Greek.  The word translated as “inspired by God” is “theopneustos”. “Theo” is God, and “pneustos” is the adjective form of “pneuma”, which is the word for Spirit, wind, or breath.  This is our connection to the Holy Spirit, “to pneuma to hagion”, the Holy Breath.  Paul is telling us that all scripture is God-breathed.  And God has not stopped breathing. God breathes through God’s people, as it has been since the beginning.  Our forebears captured what they could on paper, cherished it, translated it, and present it to us, a living history of our faith, and God breathes through it still.

OK, the Spirit is living and active through the Bible.  So let’s hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people in the gospel passage I just read.  Jesus says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”  Advocate.  I can’t resist, let’s go back to the Greek.  The Greek word here is parakletos.  “Para” means beside or next-to.  “Kletos” means “to call”.  So the word “advocate” is actually a perfect translation, “ad” is Latin for beside, and “vocare” means “to call”.  This is such a beautiful word, with so many layers.

The Spirit is our advocate to God.  As the author of Romans says, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”  The Spirit, the parakletos, the beside-caller, stands beside us and calls out to God on our behalf.


The Spirit is also God’s advocate to us.  The call of God is not always big and majestic and imperious.  The Holy Spirit, the parakletos, the beside-caller, stands next to us, calling us gently, helping us along the way.  The call of God is personal, immediate, and immanent.


So the Spirit stands beside us, calling to God, calling us.  But there’s more to this word. We’ve talked about the parakletos as the one doing the calling. But it could just as well be the other way around.  Parakletos can also mean a person you call to stand beside you.  The person you turn to for help when you need it most.  The person you can count on.  The comforter, the encourager.  The Holy Spirit is all those things and more.

So, we’ve talked about the Spirit as the breath of God, breathing life into the scriptures.  We’ve talked about the Spirit as Paraclete: advocate, comforter.  I could go on and on.  There are so many beautiful ideas about the Spirit.  But I fear that with all this linguistic and theological analysis, we risk the Spirit becoming too abstract.  In this age of spiritual awakening and religious skepticism, the Holy Spirit more powerful and relevant than ever.  But often we don’t really know how to talk about it without some pretty abstract theology.  That’s where you guys come in.  Eventide is a perfect setting for us to make the doctrines of the Holy Spirit personal, alive, and relevant.

I’d like to break you up into groups.  I’d like you to discuss ways in which you’ve seen or felt the activity of the Holy Spirit, and then choose one of your group as a spokesperson to share your reflections.   To guide your conversation, I will give you each some Biblical imagery.  Group 1, I’d like you to discuss the Spirit as wind, like the strong wind that blew in the room where the disciples gathered on Pentecost.  Group 2, I’d like you to discuss the Spirit as fire, like the tongues of flame that rested on the disciples’ heads.  Group 3, I’d like you to discuss the Spirit as a dove, like the one that settled on Jesus when he was baptized.  So again, Dove, Wind, and Fire.  I’ll give you guys a few minutes to talk in your groups, then I’ll ask you to choose someone to share a few key points from your discussion.

To close, I’d like to share a passage from the Novena of the Holy Spirit by St. Benedicta of the Cross

Who are you, sweet light, that fills me

And illumines the darkness of my heart?

You lead me like a mother’s hand,

And should you let go of me,

I would not know how to take another step.

You are the space

That embraces my being and buries it in yourself.

Away from you it sinks into the abyss

Of nothingness, from which you raised it to the light.

You, nearer to me than I to myself

And more interior than my most interior

And still impalpable and intangible

And beyond any name:

Holy Spirit eternal love!