In a sermon on May 1 I asked my little rural congregation to reflect on the reality of the Holy Spirit as the physical presence of God among us, even if it cannot be seen or touched. It isn’t that easy to do. We are not accustomed to the idea that the physical and spiritual realms coexist in creation. Our ancestors had no problem with it because, to them, the world was filled with spiritual beings of all kinds. That was not always a good thing. Superstition about “ghoulies and ghosties and long legged beasties and things that go bump in the night” too often had more reality for them than did God’s Spirit. Superstitions also led some Christians to execute supposed witches, burn books, persecute strangers, and more. All those superstitions made spiritual reality appear like a bad idea, something to be reserved for phony fortune tellers and new age goofiness.
Having said that, we lost something when we rejected the reality of the coexistence of the spiritual and physical realms in order to abolish superstition. The Celtic Christianity that underlies and inspires so much of our Anglican ways went in another direction. It recognized and honored God’s Holy Spirit as it was encountered in “thin places,” and as it was experienced in everyday activities such as milking a cow, reaping grain, or kneading bread. Unfortunately for us, that got tossed out along with the ghoulies and ghosties, except that it didn’t stay tossed out. Our way of being Christian is too deeply rooted in it, even if we are not that aware of it. More on that at another time.
All of this brings me to Pentecost, which remembers that moment when God’s Holy Spirit was revealed to a frightened and defeated band of Jesus’ followers through physical signs of its forceful presence. Contrary to the common way of thinking about our need to come to Jesus, God came to them, and why should that be a surprise? Didn’t God come to us in Christ Jesus? And that is what God does still. It is not something that happened a long time ago, but something that happens daily in our own lives, and never more so than in the gift of new life we receive each Sunday in the Holy Eucharist. On Pentecost Sunday we not only remember what happened then, we do what we can to open our hearts and minds to God doing it again for us, not once but daily.
It is time for us to reclaim the reality of the coexistence of the spiritual and physical realms. Realms not filled with scary demons, but overflowing with God’s Holy Spirit made known to us in uncountable ways through creation itself. To paraphrase the writer to the Hebrews, the spiritual realm that coexists with our physical world is not something we are to be afraid of. No! It is a realm in which the living God, innumerable angels singing, and all the saints in heaven are now and continue to be a part of our every day lives. It may not be in the form of roaring winds and tongues of fire. We may not wander out onto Main Street speaking in a dozen languages. But we will encounter God’s Holy Spirit just the same. What that will mean for each of us? That remains to be seen.