Religious belief is a funny thing. You embrace it long before you understand it and when you’re old enough to subject faith to reason you can never quite escape the feeling of safety and certainty that comes with childlike conviction. Nor should you want to. In a world of horror and mayhem and chaos and collapse, physical and political, it’s important to have a refuge.
I now understand that it’s not Jesus who visits the believer but it is the other one, his invisible self or spirit, known as the Holy Ghost who indwells. He’s harder to tie down and Christians have been arguing about when and where and how and to whom he comes for years.
What would life be like without metaphor? The Holy Spirit is at once dove, fire, water and wind and like all of these will not be tamed. He is who he is and cannot be constrained or contained by denominations or creeds. I love his mystery and his invitation to come and join him in the great romance of the Trinity.
I was out walking this morning, hood up against the breeze blowing briskly on the cusp of spring. I decided to try not to think and just listen. The wind picked up as I strode to higher ground and it ‘druthered’ through the trees – mostly the evergreen pines where there is enough foliage to offer some resistance and produce the swirl and swish of air fighting to be free. When I turned the corner onto the Ballyrogan Road it blew fiercer and harder, licking my chin with its sharp tongue. In one place the trunk of a palm tree had been snapped in two leaving the top upended on the road like an ice cream cone. It was good to get the winter cobwebs cleared.
I have a friend who is into things spiritual and she told me about a funny incident that took place this week. She is a teacher in a local primary school and one day after school Harry, the caretaker, stopped at the door of her room and asked her if she’d been burning incense. She said no and he described a smell he’d noticed as he passed her room – an aroma, a perfume, a scent… My friend could think of nothing and wondered if it might perhaps be the Holy Spirit so she proceeded to expound some biblical truths to the janitor about how God’s presence can manifest itself in surprising ways. Harry was content, if a little bemused.
It was as she was packing up her bag to leave that my friend caught sight of some wooden sticks poking out of her pencil pot. She had brought them from home to use in her craft lesson but they had been sitting in a sweet-smelling oil diffuser all over Christmas and were still impregnated with the perfume. Not the Holy Spirit after all then! She giggled all the way home and was still laughing at herself hours later.
No harm came to Harry because faith is ridiculous and often the believer looks foolish, but joy and passion are infectious. As for my friend – she has learned that the ‘fragrance of life’ is not in her room, but in her.
‘The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.’