April 27, 2009
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
As I looked up from my book while sitting in a Tim Hortons in the Calgary airport, my eye caught the world-weary face of an older gentleman. He looked as though he had had too much of life, that the possibility of joy was not on his horizon.
Or, maybe he was just having a bad day or was bone-dead tired. Air travel will do that to a person.
Or again, perhaps he was experiencing in a profound way "the groanings too deep for words" of the Spirit within as he awaited the full redemption of his body (Romans 8.23-26).
I will never know for sure, though I suspect my original impression was correct.
Chapter 8 of St. Paul's letter to the Romans overflows with insight about the Holy Spirit and how he transforms, not only the inner life of believers, but even creation itself.
Anglican Bishop Tom Wright provides an interesting translation of Romans 8.19. "Creation itself is on tiptoe with expectation, eagerly awaiting the moment when God's children will be revealed." The notion that inanimate creation is "on tiptoe with expectation" hints at so much.
It says that all of being, not just the human heart, experiences the tension between the way things are now and the way they will be when our redemption is fulfilled. Moreover, that experience of tension is not one of ennui or woe-filled acceptance of present misery, but rather one of eager anticipation.
I see that eagerness in our dog Natalka on our walks as, tail wagging joyfully, she sniffs the ground picking up hints of some anticipated worldly pleasure. As our long winter slowly surrendered and one snowbank receded into the first patch of green, Natalka did a happy dance upon the liberated part of the earth.
I don't know how most people envision heaven. But for St. Paul it is "creation itself . . . freed from its slavery to decay" (8.21).
He says nothing about disembodied spirits lounging amidst the clouds. The picture he draws is of our world, this world, finally set free from the decay of sin that has destroyed the glory that God created in Eden. The human person and yes, creation now finds its fulfillment.
THE LAW OF THE SPIRIT
Our "groaning" occurs when we abandon the law of the flesh and live by the law of the Spirit. This groaning recognizes the incompleteness of creation now, but still it is filled with joy. Its joy stems from a recognition that we are God's children and that we are not terrified in God's presence. Rather, we call him "Abba, Daddy."
Our calling God "Abba" is the first sign that the Spirit is animating our hearts.
Another is that "the Spirit comes alongside and helps us in our weakness" (8.26). We don't know how to pray, but the Spirit prays within us.
We may not experience this "Spirit prayer" in the way we have been taught to pray. It may come as an intimation of holiness, a yearning to praise God, other people or creation, or a commitment to take on new tasks and responsibilities.
Perhaps it is a feeling of lightness and liberation when we leave behind a sinful part of our lives or abandon something that has weighed us down.
The Spirit prayer may come at any moment, not necessarily when we are on our knees or in church, although it may surely come then too.
Words cannot capture the fullness of the Spirit prayer. Whatever its specific content, it is an intimation of the divine, a sense that somehow, someday, everything will be alright. Indeed, much more than all right.
Paul concludes Romans 8 with his own explosion of joy that begins with the rhetorical question, "If God is for us, who is against us?"
When the Spirit is with us, there is no reason for world-weariness in the face of life's woes. There is only the hope that comes from the joy of knowing Jesus Christ our Lord.
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