When people tell me that they are ‘spiritual but not religious,’ they often also tell me that they see God when they are in the forest or at the coast. I know it’s true. I see God there, too. Our Creator left us a message about how much God wants us to understand beauty and how things work by stamping God’s image on the creation. Believers tell me about how much they depend on Jesus, and how knowing Jesus has sustained them through crises and through cruelties. I know it’s true. We spend a lot of our time in church and in Bible study talking about Jesus. We talk about his love for us shown in his willingness to suffer a brutal death. We talk about how that death on the cross destroyed the power of sin and death over us and that through his resurrection we, too, are raised to new life with God forever. We talk about Jesus presence with us in our gathering and in our service to one another. But people almost never talk about the Holy Spirit.
We in the ‘mainline’ church’ seem to have left the Holy Spirit out of our thinking about God’s presence among us. The letters the Apostle Paul wrote to his scattered congregations in the first century told them that the Holy Spirit was the mind of God leads us to God’s will. It is the Spirit of God which prays for us when we don’t know how to pray and can’t find the words for our longing (Romans 8: 26-27). Jesus told his disciples that he was sending his Spirit to them when he was going to leave them. He said that Spirit would continue to reveal his teaching to them and give them the words they needed to be his witnesses around the world (John 14, 15, 16).
So where do we find the Holy Spirit? When someone tells you how scared they are at the news of a diagnosis they were not expecting and you give them a hug and offer to pray for them, that’s the Holy Spirit giving you the touch and the words. When you touch that new baby’s hand and are amazed at the miracle before you, that’s the Holy Spirit making the connection to God’s gift a new life. When you open your Bible in distress and turn to the Psalm that assures you that God is your refuge and strength, that’s the Holy Spirit opening the words on the page to be God’s own word to you. When the words of a hymn you are singing in church remind you of your grandpa and you feel part of that Church that existed way before you and will exist long after you are gone, that’s the Holy Spirit gathering you with all the saints who have worshipped God.
The fact is, in this time after Jesus left the earth, it is the Spirit of Jesus that was his gift to his believers that is our connection to God’s presence all around us. God is not far away, the Creator who left us on our own to admire his work. Our God did not just come to be with us once as Jesus and then go home to leave us behind. Our God continues to live right here with us, in our hearts, in our words, in our touch, in our hopes and longings. It is the Holy Spirit who dwells with us, now and forever.