The World Council of Churches' 1991 assembly in Canberra, Australia, had as its theme, Come, Holy Spirit, Renew the Whole Creation.
The first event of the assembly, as recounted by Kirsteen Kim in her book, The Holy Spirit in the World: A Global Conversation, included a presentation by a young Korean theologian, Chung Hyun Kyung.
With drums beating a traditional Korean rhythm, Chung called upon the spirits of her ancestors and led an exorcist dance invoking the Holy Spirit and the spirits of suffering individuals, peoples and parts of creation. These spirits, she said, are filled with resentment, bitterness and grief that must be released.
She then burned a piece of paper that listed the names of the spirits. "Chung concluded with her intuitive image of the Holy Spirit as Kwan In - goddess of compassion and wisdom in the popular religiosity of East Asian Buddhism, whom she saw as a feminine image of Christ. She then urged all to join in the Spirit's 'wild rhythm of life.'"
From Kim's account, it appears Chung's presentation was well received by those from mainstream Protestant churches, but with deep disquiet, even alarm, by the evangelical and Eastern Orthodox participants. She was criticized for falling into syncretism - the attempt to blend different religious belief systems into Christianity, and for substituting other spirits for the Holy Spirit.
This episode raises the issue of the discernment of spirits in a multi-faith world. Not every spirit is a holy spirit and it is naïve to believe otherwise. St. Paul warned the Ephesians: "Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of the present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (6.12).
In our age, inclusiveness and respect for other peoples and other faiths is highly valued. But some who have converted to Christianity from polytheistic or shamanistic religions have deep concerns about combining their new religion with the old one. Often, these converts point to great dangers in delving into the world of spirits.
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St. Ignatius of Loyola provided rules for the discernment of spirits.
As well, people sometimes too readily claim that some movement or phenomena comes from the Holy Spirit. Their only criterion seems to be that if this phenomenon is in accord with their own beliefs and preconceptions, it must be from the Spirit.
Critical discernment is needed on what is of the Holy Spirit and what comes from some other spirit. The Holy Spirit is encountered through the sacraments and liturgy, and in the teaching of the Church. Followers of Christ must also seek the Spirit in their prayer and in the events of daily life.
One is compelled to ask: Which experiences or intuitions come from the Holy Spirit? Which are simply one's own desires? Which might come from other types of spirit?
This is a large question and an adequate answer lies beyond the scope of this article. But spiritual masters, such as St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis de Sales, have provided rules for the discernment of spirits.
Ignatius, for example, maintained that an evil spirit stirs up the imagination and the senses while a good spirit directs itself toward reason and conscience. The bad spirit will create a sense of uneasiness or agitation in the person; a good spirit will leave only peace and joy.
St. Francis de Sales constantly counselled moderation, not to love anything too passionately, not even virtue. If one has entered on a path of life and then feels an inclination to change course, disregard it for it is most likely filled with self-love.
The Spirit does not make us holy saints overnight, even if we want that with all our might. Even the great St. Paul had to confess, "I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand." Despite his great holiness, he felt he was "captive to the law of sin" (Romans 7.21, 23).
Calling on the spirit world is foolish and dangerous. Why would one do such a thing unless it was to foretell the future or exert spiritual control over others? These are not healthful motives. They do not give glory to God but rather to oneself.
What could be greater than the eternal life God offers to us? If one has had even a taste of God's goodness, why risk that in order to enter an alliance with unholy spirits?