Thursday, May 12, 2016

The best things in life are invisible

Pentecost Sunday
Year C                                                                                            
Acts 2:1-21

Ignatius of Antioch once said (Ignatius' Epistle to the Romans III:3) that:

"nothing visible is good" (οὐδὲν φαινόμενον καλόν) 

which I have no hesitation flipping on its back and taking Ignatius to mean that:

"the best things in life are invisible".

It is a lesson often learned too late:  We will not ultimately regret missing out on the houses, cars and the substantive preferments of this life.   We will, however, bitterly regret having been passed over by honour, verity, friendship, purpose, love and the myriad connections we have to the souls of other people and to the Kingdom of God in our midst.  It won't do to protest that people are quite visible, thank you very much, and while we're at it so are church buildings and halls.  Truth can be researched in universities; honour and verity in courts of law.  All of these have mailing addresses.  Our attachment to these visible things, however like all relationships, is an invisible connection.  They direct the orientation of our souls or they do not.

A group of people bitterly divided over a task can be said to be missing "Team Spirit".  A young person who has struggled with a series of exams or facing the end of a relationship can be said to be "Dispirited".  All the bits and pieces of success and forward progress are there but for want of a certain je ne sais quoi the group or the individual is pinned to in place..  The magic ingredient is missing from the recipe - the insubstantial substantial necessary to make the whole thing work.  In the absence of fundamental direction we may agonize about our forward progress.  The visible marks of success - our pay grade, our grade point average, our place on the ladder - seem a relentless upward or forward slog.

The invisible gift of the Spirit of God is as necessary as the animating spirit that has kept you and me walking around lo these many years.  Luke makes a point of using the related words for Spirit and rushing wind to show a clear connection between the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the very creation of the Human Being in the Garden.  Without the animating gift we are merely clay.  It's an extraordinary gift of God to us from the time of our conception yet it is something utterly ordinary to us now.  We no longer think about breathing.  There is grief and sorrow when the gift is removed.   Peter's sermon (which carries on beyond the reading chosen for this Sunday) puts the matter of this second gift of breath plainly.  Yes these events are extraordinary.  This invisible gift is, nonetheless, the ordinary equipment of the Christian.  If this gift been taken from you (or more properly feels taken from you) - by virtue of anger over personal reversals, bitter experience or the sin that has divided you from God and from your brothers and sisters then you will need to ask for it back.

Retreating into your visible achievements will not do.
That's the sort of thing you would do instead of living.