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God-not-in-a-box

By Sister Christine Schenk

I have always loved the Holy Spirit.

As a young child,  this was the first image of God to which I felt a real connection. The images of God-the-father and God-the-son seemed so settled and so definite. Both were male: one Yahweh-thunderbolt creator; one sympathetic, crucified savior. Aside from being hard for a young girl to identify with, they were sort of scary.

And then there’s the Spirit. Not defined. Not exclusively male. My girl-child self was already enthralled with the natural world’s spectacular beauty. The Holy Spirit is the God-name I recognized as that mysterious loving Presence I had already sensed through nature. God-not-in-a-box who is tenderly near.

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As I trudge along my pilgrim journey today, I find I need each person of the Trinity in different ways at different times. But there is something special about the Holy Spirit.

Look at the witness of the early church. The disciples are always saying things like, “then the Spirit told us to go here, so we went” and “the Spirit told him not to go there, so he stayed away.” See this passage in the book of Acts: “[Paul and Timothy] went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” (Acts 16: 6-7).

Did you ever wonder how Paul and Timothy knew it was the Spirit talking to them? Maybe they acted on a subtle but definite inner prompting and only in retrospect did they realize it was the Jesus-Spirit.

Alternatively, as my Quaker friends would say, the “way would open.” Or not. And that’s often how the Spirit guides us still.

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I love that the Spirit seems so very practical and yet so powerful.

How about this passage preceding Peter’s church-changing encounter with Cornelius: “While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Look, three men are searching for you. Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them’ ” (Acts 10: 19-20).

After that, we read of Peter’s conversion, welcoming Gentiles without first requiring circumcision: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. … Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10: 34-35; 47).

That one encounter changed everything.  For the first time, the infant Church began to recognize the breadth and depth of God’s love—a love meant for all peoples, not only for the people of Israel. 

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The Spirit loves to shake up our stereotypes.  If we are open, the Spirit will break open our vision and allow us to see the gentle, powerful ways of God’s unfathomable love.

Leonard Bernstein once wrote in his “Mass,” “God loves all simple things. For God is the simplest of all.” There is a simplicity about God-in-the-person-of-the-Spirit that is both disarming and attractive.

Have you ever heard the Spirit’s still, simple voice?

How did you respond?

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About the Author

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Sister Christine Schenk has worked as a nurse midwife to low-income families, a community organizer, a writer, and the founding director of an international church reform organization, FutureChurch. Currently she writes an award-winning column “Simply Spirit” for the National Catholic Reporter.

Her book Crispina and Her Sisters: Women and Authority in Early Christianity (Fortress, 2017) was awarded first place in History by the Catholic Press Association.

10 thoughts on “God-not-in-a-box

  1. Margaret Freundl says:

    Thx for sharing your life experience with the Holy Spirit. When I need wisdom, guidance, or help with a new strategy, it is to the Spirit I pray. 🙏👍

    Like

  2. Betsy Meagher says:

    love that song ‘Simple Song’ and your quote from it. love singing that song. thanks for your heartfelt sharing Chris. B

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  3. joyce dropps,csj says:

    Dear Chris
    Thank you for this reflection. As I have always said about your reflections/ writings, you have the gift of putting your words/thoughts together in a very meaningful way for me. I will print it out and reflect on it in due time. God Bless you and stay healthy and safe. one of your many sisters, joyce

    Like

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