HOMILY for Easter Week 2, Tuesday
Living in windy Edinburgh, I have been amazed at how the wind suddenly picks up, and comes rushing across the Meadows. From our priory above here we can both hear the roar of the wind, and see the undulating waves of the trees. In its power and unexpectedness, this wind is rather awesome, and I recall on one occasion saying: “the Spirit is active again today”. For, like the wind, the Holy Spirit is awesome, powerful, and can be rather unexpected in what he inspires. And, of course, in Hebrew and in Greek, one word is used for both ‘wind’ and ‘spirit’: ruah in Hebrew, and pneuma in Greek, so that we have a delightful play of words so that we can say: “the wind blows where it wills…”, and at the same time understand it as “the Spirit blows where it wills…”
But I don’t think that Jesus intends primarily to say that the Spirit is like the wind. Rather, his primary purpose is to answer Nicodemus’ question about how one can be born again, and Nicodemus has understood rebirth in a physical manner. So, Jesus points out that the rebirth he speaks of is invisible; it is spiritual. And, like the wind, our spiritual birth is also invisible. But even though this is mysterious and invisible, we can also, as with the wind, feel the effects of being born again in the Spirit.
Hence, the spiritual invisible rebirth that the first Christians in Acts experienced has visible effects. Their new life in the Spirit changes the way they organized their lives, the way they lived and related to others, and affects their socio-economic structures. It gives rise to what some have called ‘charismatic communism’. For the first Christians, the spiritual reality of being children of the Spirit, of the wind, we might say, had tangible material effects and consequences, and a sense of solidarity and fraternal equality.
And notice that this Spirit is not capricious. Sometimes people say “The Spirit blows where he wills” to conjure up an anti-institutional, arbitrary, free Spirit. But the Holy Spirit is the One who hovered over the waters at the dawn of creation to bring order out of chaos. He is the One promised by Christ to lead us into the fullness of Truth. And the witness of the Acts of the Apostles is that this same Spirit is the One who unites us, heart and soul. Hence, the effect of the Spirit active in the lives of believers is to bring order out of the chaos of our lives, to re-create us in grace and holiness, and to bring us closer to Christ who is Truth, and unite us in God who is Love.
This work of the Spirit, like the wind, is often unexpected and powerful in that it unsettles us and makes demands of us. The Spirit changes our complacent lives, if we let him. One of the first things I read about the Dominicans is that their life is patterned on the common life that we heard about in our First Reading. And this notion deeply attracted me, and by exploring this present-day reality in religious life, I allowed the Spirit to powerfully change my life.
But after having been tousled, disturbed, and converted by the Spirit, our tendency is to settle down to old familiar ways of living, and revert to former bad habits. Which is why, when I look out over the wind-tossed trees in the Meadows, I marvel at the Spirit’s awesome activity, and pray that we will continue to be open and responsive to his fresh inspirations.