Re-imagining The Holy Spirit: What is past is prologue

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It's an honor to join all of you on this series and hopefully an adventurous conversation into re-imagining the Holy Spirit.   Before jumping into a full-blown exploration of re-imagining the Spirit, being charismatic and spiritual gifts, as one trained in the craft of history, I want to begin by taking a few steps back to get some context, and tease out some questions after reflecting on our deep church history.  There are several undercurrents in our deep church history that I want to appeal to and then propose some linkage with our present context and see what we think. 

The three undercurrents in deep church we want to take a look at all have a few things in common.  The commonality is in the experiential factor: the seeking to connect and experience God.  The undercurrents/movements I want to cover are the monastic impulse, the mystic impulse and the impulse toward sacred space. 

Without getting blogged-down in too much detail, I think we can historically understand the development of monasticism as reacting against the corruption of the world and the Church while seeking depth and an experiential relationship with God in the harsh environs first explored by the Desert Fathers and Mothers (yes, there were women hermits!).  They sought freedom from worldly entanglements but more significantly, they embraced depth of experience and relationship with God.  This impulse is witnessed again when the undercurrent emerges more fully in the mid-to-late medieval period with monastic cloisters and even later with monastic orders being founded.  We witness this with most clearly in the Cluny reform movement which sought to separate from a church that had become corrupt and from wealthy benefactors. 

Moving to the next undercurrent, mysticism in the church, particularly in the medieval period can also be seen as a reaction against one thing and a seeking of Another.  The mystic impulse reacted against the over-intellectualism of Scholasticism but also to the leadership crisis within the Church, particularly witnessed during the time of multiple Popes at Rome and Avignon.  Note two issues here: 1. the mystic impulse is not anti-intellectualism, but rather is defined by professors like Nathan Feldmeth of Fuller Seminary in California as intellectual learning plus emotional experience, brought from a desire for an experiential relationship with God.  then, 2. the leadership vacuum or crisis within the Church brought about the curious return to ‘charismatic’ leaders, almost like we were back in the period of the shoftim/liberators/judges witnessed to in sacred scripture. 

The third undercurrent I want to bring our attention I am calling the sacred space impulse.  Mainly I want to point to the Cathedral movement in medieval Europe and to the Celtic spirituality of space.  The issues – as you might be catching on to with the previous undercurrents – in both the cathedral movement and celtic spirituality are of an experiential element with God in spatial environment.  The ancient cathedrals and labyrinths as well as icons and stained glass were created - indeed crafted - with the intent of both communicating about God yet also ushering people into an experience with God through art, architecture and the creation of sacred space. 

You might have picked up on the main theme and linkage I want to make to our current context: seeking an experience with God.  In terms of seeing things from where we are in our context of postmodernity, there are actually two main points I want us to tease out of these recurring undercurrents: 1. they reacted against something, and 2. they sought an experiential relationship through some spiritual means with God.  I believe that the gifts of the Spirit flow from an encounter with God and His Presence (and hopefully follow-on with a deepening relationship with God) all happening in and through Christ Jesus.

OK, here’s the pay-off for today: I think we have been and are experiencing all of these undercurrents welling up in our present context of postmodernity.  As an example are the neo-monasticsand their rise after the compromises of modern mission and witness by Christian movements who have been scandalized by corruption through greed (health and wealth) or sexual scandal or the fragmentation and compromise in living in our present time.  I have a friend who actually hosted a conversation at a conference entitled “Un-pimping and Re-monking the Church”!        

So, now is your chance to respond…here are a few questions I want to propose to get us started:

  • If monasticism, mysticism and the impulse toward sacred space were reactions against the over-intellectualization and corruption of the Church, are the present undercurrents of neo-monasticism and the spread and acceptance of mysticism and creative sacred space reactions against present corruption and/or over-intellectualization in the fading light of Modernity? 
  • How does this dynamic play out in postmodernity and in your emerging/missional church environment?   
  • Like the Cathedral movement or Celtic spirituality in Medieval Christendom, which were connected to the mystic impulse of seeking to conect with God, most emerging churches seek to create sacred space/atmosphere in a gathering that ushers people into a experiential encounter with God.  Architecture, lighting, space and creative atmosphere are tools used to experience and express spirituality…so is the emerging church movement an expression of classic deep church mysticism?
  • With Christian mysticism usually there is witnessed an outbreak of the charismata or gifts of the Spirit.  One example is witnessed in Catherine of Siena in the 14thcentury, who is said to have went into ‘plague houses’ laying hands on people and healing them, even raising some from the dead.  Is this just legend and myth or do you believe Catherine exercised some of what Paul calls the “gifts of healings” and possibly “the gift of miracles” in 1 Corinthians 12?