Confirmation Week 3: The Holy Spirit

My post this morning: Keith Richards’ autobiography, and my new NSRV. I cackled at this combination for quite some time.

Reading the Bible is like doing a magic eye picture. You have to look more than once, at the same time: once at what’s plain in front of you, then squinting a bit so you’re also looking for the hidden picture. Except, in the Bible, you’ve also got to look a third time and think about how to interpret that picture, then find another, different Bible or three and compare it to see how it’s been translated. Then, it’s a question of what you accept as fact, and what you interpret yourself.

While I’m more than happy to tackle most parts of the Bible and discuss them with relish, the Holy Spirit really gives me pause as the black hole in my religious understanding. It’s like the Ringo of the Trinity: “The Father, Son…and the other one”, except even Ringo had a presence in my life, as the voice of Thomas The Tank Engine, whereas the Holy Spirit? I talk to God when I pray, Jesus came to Earth as a human being, The Holy Spirit tends to “come upon” people in the Bible and give them super powers. I remain flummoxed.

Things are getting serious in class this week. There is no wine, for starters, presumably because our performance during the Jesus session was so poor. You’ve never seen a room as subdued, with the occasional murmur about if God is everything, where does the Holy Spirit come in? Isn’t it simply that a Trinity triangle just makes a slightly better shape than the linear God – Jesus?

A new addition to our chorus line of clergy this week: a vicar who spends three months a year in London, and the rest of his time guarding the well-toned flock of a phenomenally expensive Caribbean island. I’m fascinated. This easily sounds like the best job outside of being a Cadbury’s chocolate taster.

The twenty Marlboro Reds tucked into his jeans pocket already suggest someone more rock n roll than the vicars in my parents’ country parish, never knowingly seen near anything more controversial than a festive tin of Quality Street.

It’s deeply unfortunate for the poor man then that we’re even worse at the Holy Spirit than at Jesus. I’ve sat down at Adventurous Vicar’s table and am rapidly discovering my mistake.  I genuinely don’t have a clue about what the Holy Spirit might mean or do. In the end we move tentatively onto the idea of where we might have seen the Holy Spirit in people. We all know people who are genuinely “good”. I’ve met two of these, and both of them seemed to glow with some kind of inner sunshine that made them kind and good without ever being cloying.

And of course, there’s the hospital. I know that nurses and doctors are human beings like everyone else, but the resolve and kindness that some of them showed was quite extraordinary. And then the patients themselves. I don’t want to insult anyone by implying that having a harsh, possibly terminal illness like cancer automatically elevates you to grace-filled supreme being and favourite child of God. That’s not true. Being so ill is exhausting and frequently demeaning to your sense of self.

I did however meet some extraordinary people on that ward. There was Flo, a Lambeth stalwart who took me through her life story and whose refrain was “I’ve had a lovely life.” There was Laughter, a severe African woman and devoted Christian, who admonished me for saying I’d like to call my future children something like her name by saying “No, Katherine. You must call your children by good, Bible names like Rachel and Hannah.”

A version of this post was originally published on The Times’ Articles of Faith blog. Week 4 is missing, next up is Week 5.

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