Holy Spirit Graphic


February 22, 2010

Perhaps when we think of the Holy Spirit, our first thoughts are those of Pentecost. While it is true that the Spirit was poured out most abundantly following Christ's ascension, the story of the Spirit goes right back to the second verse of the Bible.

"The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters" (Genesis 1.2).

Some translators prefer to talk of "the breath of God" rather than "a wind from God." Either way, this breath, this wind, launches creation. The formless void and the primeval water begin to take shape and gather life once God breathes.

Moreover, our modern biases may lead us to believe that while trees, animals and people have life, rocks, rivers and soil are inert. They have no spirit.

God breathed on it all, however. Before anything else, the wind from God swept over the waters.

The modern world has set humanity on one side and "lower forms of being" on the other. The link between them is tenuous; the divide is seen as great. Such a polarization gives us permission to exploit the earth and dominate nature. We have become, in the words of German Lutheran theologian Jurgen Moltmann, "unparalleled destroyers."

This stands at odds with God's plan for creation. In the second account of creation, we learn "the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life" (Genesis 2.7).

There is God breathing again. There also is the human person at one with the earth. With that extra breath, God gave the human responsibility over the earth - to care for it and to till it and to give names to all the animals. But responsibility does not mean domination.

With the sin of Adam and Eve, the close friendship between God and humanity was shattered. Also broken was the wholeness of the earth. St. Francis of Assisi could speak of Brother Sun and Mother Earth, but because of the brokenness of creation caused by sin, the relationship was tainted.


St. Paul tells us that "creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it," that is by the sin of Adam. "The whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now."

But that is not the end of the story. "For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God . . . that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will attain the freedom of the glory of the children of God." All of creation, not just humanity, awaits "the redemption of our bodies" (Romans 8.19-23).

The Spirit was present at creation. The Spirit is present now. The Spirit will be present with fullness in us and in all of creation when the time of redemption is complete.

The 20th century Catholic theologian Jean Danielou asked: "What do we mean when we speak of 'spirit' and say that 'God is spirit'? Are we speaking Greek or Hebrew? If we are speaking Greek, we are saying that God is immaterial. If we are speaking Hebrew, we are saying that God is a storm and an irresistible force? . . . Does spirituality mean becoming immaterial or does it mean being animated by the Holy Spirit?"

For too long, we have tended to be "Greeks," setting spirit against matter. But when we come into partnership with the Holy Spirit, we become "Hebrews." We treat the body . . . and the earth as the Spirit's temple, not as garbage bins.


Today, humanity is in a battle for survival. We are threatened by ourselves - by our enormous weaponry, by our callous destruction of the earth in order to increase something we call prosperity. But the real prosperity is to strive to be filled with the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit who swept over the face of the waters at the moment of creation and who breathed life into the soil and called it "man."