Opinion Columns & Blogs

My forgotten God

Last week, Amy Elton from Macon, wrote a beautiful letter to the editors, commenting on the fact that I write about Yahweh and Jesus but never about the Holy Spirit. And she’s right. The Holy Spirit, or the Holy Ghost as I was taught to say, has become my forgotten God. Why is that?

Yahweh is a wild and colorful character in our Old Testament; he’s a bloodthirsty warrior and then a compassionate father. He’s easy to imagine and easy to describe. It’s called anthropomorphism, making God look like a man. And look at Jesus! On every page of our New Testament we find this Jewish zealot rejecting both the Roman rule and the Jewish High Priests. He learns how to listen to women, perform miracles and die for his beliefs. What’s not to write about?

But who can write about a spirit? Spirits are amorphous, and that’s why we used the term ghost in the Catholic Church. It’s difficult to describe something we can’t put our arms around; something so nebulous it keeps slipping through our human fingers. However, there are two aspects of the Holy Spirit I’d like to mention.

The first aspect centers around the feminine Hebrew noun, Ruach. Our Hebrew authors called her Ruach when they talked about the Spirit of G-d in the first sentence of Genesis. She was moving gently over the face of the waters. “She” moved gently. And it’s the same word throughout the whole Bible. It’s never a “He.” The Holy Spirit is always feminine. Sometimes She’s the Spirit of Yahweh, sometimes She’s the Spirit of Elohim, but She’s never masculine.

Several of our Christian religions (especially in the East) focus on this feminine side of divinity and celebrate her in rituals and prayers. All the ancient Roman, Greek and Egyptian religions had goddesses. Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists and Messianic Jews all accept the third person of the Holy Trinity as feminine. Catholics, as I have mentioned before, have moved Mary, the mother of Jesus, into a position of divinity as close to God without being God, as possible.

The second aspect of the Holy Spirit is the one we all recognize: gushing power. Both the Hebrew word Ruach and its Greek translation, Pneuma, cannot be spoken without pushing the air from your mouth. It’s as if the words themselves resemble the depiction of power “on its way.” This is what Luke was saying in his Acts of the Apostles when he has the frightened followers of Christ huddled together in one room. (Acts 2:1-18)

Luke says there was “a sound like a violent rushing wind, and tongues, like flames of fire rested on each one, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” That’s what she feels like when she fills our minds and hearts with courage. Like a rushing wind and a burning fire.

Remember, this was a culture where the feminine spirit was always “behind the scenes” and the macho man was up front. There was no way the ancient Hebrew could imagine Yahweh with any kind of female characteristics. But even in those days, they knew that every Barack had his Michelle and every Donald had his Melania.

But let’s be honest, as my friend Kirby Godsey says, when we talk about God we’re talking images and comparisons and anthropomorphisms. We can’t talk “God-talk.” Matthew’s gospel ends: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; sounds like dad and mom and child. The Truth is, God is. That’s all.

However, I know we have all felt that surge of enthusiasm and added strength when we fed the homeless and helped the crippled. We’ve been “on fire” with the opportunity to teach dyslexic and blind and neglected kids. We’ve been re-born from time to time with a spirit to do the right thing. We can’t deny that feeling and we shouldn’t. It’s Ruach; she feels good.

Contact me: drc@billcummings.org.