By Charles Rush
June 1, 2003
Acts 2: 1-21
en we first think about the movement of the Spirit, our minds gravitate towards something like Our Lady of Lourdes, where a young French girl reportedly saw a vision of the Madonna that she wanted to heal people. Since then, thousands and thousands of people have made the pilgrimage to the site and experienced something miraculous.
when we think of the movement of the Spirit, we think of the spark of
creativity that moves writers to the quotable quote. “Ask not what your country
can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. Great quotes feel like they come from
outside of us because it is so hard to generate these on our own.
have a couple colleagues that occasionally send me samples of their students
work to prove that point, papers written with time pressures, no doubt, and
simple fatigue. The following come from English 101. “He fell for her like
his heart was a mob informant and she was the East River.” Close but not
quite. Or this, “She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a
dog makes just before it throws up.” Not quite right either. Or this, “The
plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just
might work.” Or this by a mature student returning for school. “She was
as easy as the TV Guide crossword.” Finally, “He was deeply in love.
When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck
backing up.” Again, close but not quite there. Great quotes come upon us
with a wave of inspiration.
text this morning is given to us in the shape and form of something miraculous.
Partly this is unfortunate for us post-Enlightenment, post-Modern readers
because a block is thrown up at the first that shields us from the most
important, obvious insight. Because the profound reality about the life of the
Spirit is not it’s miraculous character but the quality of transcendence that
we all participate in and understand.
the fundamentum of life itself. When I was in divinity school and a chaplain in
the Emergency room of a downtown urban hospital, I got a call late one
afternoon, asking if I would sit vigil with a woman that was dying and had no
family or friends to be with her. I went to see her and she was so weak that
she couldn’t speak. But I remember praying for her, holding her hand, and
laying a hand on her forehead as I prayed. I remember that she just barely
squeezed my hand after I was done. She lingered on for some time, but at some
point the nurses called me again and I sat next to her as her breathing became
labored and she developed what the staff calls ‘the death rattles’. After a
while, she expired. It was late afternoon. Spontaneously, when I could sense
that the end was coming, I began praying for her, almost like a chant. As those
of you who have lived through this will attest, it was a sacred journey to walk
with her in the shadow of the valley of death. And oddly peaceful. But there
was a moment, just after she died, that is visceral… the transition from
inspirited to dead, from the flexible animated aliveness to the taut and cold.
The Spirit has departed. Just as it was tangibly present, so it was gone. And I
was scared, not in the sense of being scared of ghosts, but existentially
afraid in the face of the anxiety of death itself. I was still focused on her
and in the moment, but I could almost hear myself under my breath saying, ‘I
don’t want to die’. It was a lightheaded moment, almost a dizzy moment. I
remember walking out into the early evening in front of the hospital, into the
humid early evening, all of the rush hour traffic heading home, thinking how
strange it was that life just goes on. It seemed for a moment that everything
should just stop in honor of the moment, but it doesn’t.
the giddiness at the beginning of life. I believe I was all of 23 when our
first child was born. Apart from some Lamaze classes, I had no idea what to
expect. I was just focused on the mechanics of helping my wife with the
breathing, telling her she didn’t really need that medication… what a mistake
that was… She said something like “Don’t tell me what I need” with an
expression redolent of Linda Blair in The Exorcist. Bring in the
Demerol… make that morphine, make that heroin, whatever…
then that moment, when this child was actually born. I hadn’t thought about it
in advance, but when he started breathing, the room was shot through with
transcendence. It is just such a mystical thing, so much bigger than the
mechanics of science just sperm and egg growing, so much bigger than just you
and your spouse. You are watching the mystery of the life force, the Spirit
kick-start a new generation, a new avatar. It is a fundamentally divine moment,
the primordial spiritual experience. I just remember being overwhelmed with a
great wave of gratitude and the wonderful word used so often in the bible about
God, a sense of awe. I remember just standing in front of the
window at the nursery with the blank gaze that young men get just watching new
life in wonder, like it is said of Mary, ‘she pondered all these things in her
heart and wondered what they might mean.’
are surrounded by the ‘life force’ in all of its mystery but
somehow we only really pay attention to its transcendent dimension at the
beginning and at the end. There are moments in between-when we feel really
alive, when long hoped for things come to fruition before our very eyes, when
something precious we think we have lost is saved, when we are dizzy with love,
when the acceptance of God pours over us- but largely we live our days in
all of these extraordinary moments, we have a sense of the way that life is
shot through with the transcendent dimension of the Spirit. It under girds all
love the line at the beginning of the Bible that says literally, “When God
began creating… the Spirit of God moved across the waters.” The structure of
the universe is shot through with the life force. As Teilhard de Chardin
pointed out in his meticulous depiction of the evolution of the universe,
evolutionary development is shot through with the transcendent spirit. There is
a direction to evolution towards the greater interiorization and the
manifestation of a fuller realm of the spiritual.
the broadest terms, he points out that evolution moves from the inorganic, to
the organic, to the conscious, to the self-conscious, to the self-directed. The
higher evolutionary forms of being, primates and humans, manifesting greater
degrees of self-control, self-direction, as well as a variety of other
spiritual qualities of self-transcendence.
you know, our search for how inorganic chemical compounds mixed with
electricity to actually form the first cells remains elusive. Somehow it
happened and single celled organisms came into being. Teilhard speculates that
early in the earth’s life, there were great seas of single celled organisms
that radiated- that is they multiplied until they had effectively reached the
limit of their extended growth. At this point he speculates that a super
concentration of single-celled organisms, under the right conditions, involuted-
a wonderful term. That is, they turned in on themselves, reorganizing into a
new complex reality, a multi-celled organism.
that this happened is the reality of the transcendent Spirit- the life
force- that is shot through all of material reality. Built into the dynamic of
evolution is not only a movement towards complexity, but that complexity itself
has an interior dimension to it. As that process of interiorization evolves
towards higher, more complex beings, sentience develops- the
ability to sense, feel. As sentience evolves in the process of interiorization,
consciousness emerges. As consciousness evolves in the process of
interiorization, self-consciousness emerges, as in higher
primates and humans.
often say of humans that they not only know, they know that they know.
We have an awareness of past, present, and the future. We possess a sense of
time and an ability to plan for the future that becomes dominant, where less
complex forms of life are primarily directed by hormones released in response
to the rhythms of the annual cycle. We also are influenced by hormonal rhythms
but we have an ability to over-ride them mentally with a self-direction less
complex forms of life do not have.
philosophers often say of humans that they possess a moral capacity that less
complex forms of life do not have in the same way. We are motivated by guilt
and shame, integrity and virtue. In Genesis, we are told that God made us
stewards of the earth, stewards of the creatures of the earth. That is to say
that humans are responsible for maintaining the ecosystem in a way that other
creatures are not, in large part because we are able to alter the ecosystem in
exponential proportion to other creatures.
moral capacity is intricately wrapped up with our technological prowess, what
the Roman philosophers referred to as homo faber, Man the toolmaker.
Stanley Kubrick did a wonderful job depicting this in the opening scene of 2001
Space Odyssey. The very first scene has a group of primates from millennia
ago on the plain in Tanzania. They are dancing around the monolith, Kubrick’s
depiction of God, the life-force, that is generating energy so that the
primates are getting excited to the point of a primal religious ecstasy that
signals a creative break-through.
changes in the primates. The next day, when they are approached by a rival
group of primates, they go through the same aggressive dances they use to scare
off their enemy that they have used for centuries but the leader primate that
has had a break through moment, picks up the bleached thigh bone of a dead
water buffalo and wields the proverbial first tool, a weapon,
hitting the leader of the rival group who falls to the ground unconscious.
Spark jumps the gap as the killer realizes the new found power of his tool, all
the other primates exalting his dominance. The moral dimension is the interior
side of technological development.
throws the new tool in the air which Kubrick morphs into a space ship slowly
turning end over end through the galaxies, leaping us forward to the near
future when we will create our own biosphere around us, so self-directed
that the earth does not control us so much as we control it. You may
recall that the movie then explores the interior spiritual challenge of
advanced technology in the relationship between the space captain Dave and the
computer HAL, upon which the biosphere is completely dependent. Kubrick was
giving early voice to the anxiety lots of people have about the fact that we
are facing a new level of interior involution through the exponential
growth of technological sophistication.
we are presently living through a radical step forward in evolutionary history-
the genome project. We are unraveling the basic structures that determine our
evolutionary development and it appears likely that in the relatively near
future, we will be able to direct our evolutionary path. People are concerned
about that, worried about that because we are assuming powers that were
formerly the realm of the gods and they are right. Yet, this is the inevitable
direction of our spiritual evolution. And what it shall produce- monstrous
deformation or angelic health- we won’t be able to say for generations.
when you stand back and take in the breadth of our world, when you take in the
long direction of the shape and direction of evolution, when you see the wonder
of breath in new life and the passing of breath in life that ceases to be, you
can see that our world is simply shot through with transcendence, with the
Spirit of life itself.
is the power that God released on Pentecost. That experience that the disciples
had was a concentrated spiritual elixir, which is available to all of us in
different degrees at different times.
only want to mention one obvious example today, more as a reminder of our
ability to heal. It is the power of prayer. Each of us is filled with the life
Spirit, the Spirit that grows things and heals thing. We can focus that energy,
concentrate that energy, and thereby alter the world around us for good and for
is the concentration and channeling of our spiritual energy and it makes a
material difference. Dr. Herbert Benson, who teaches at Harvard medical school,
has written on the subject. He cites one study where people were asked to pray
for mold spores to grow in a petri dish. They compared the growth rates of mold
spores that were prayed for by a group of people versus the growth rates for
mold spores that were not prayed for. They didn’t tell the people praying how
to pray or what they meant by prayer. They just asked them to do it. Some
people prayed in the name of Jesus, others in the name of God, others in the
name of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as our Jewish brothers and sisters
would say. Some were church people, others were not. But they prayed. Lo,
behold, the mold spores grew substantially faster when they were prayed for.
our healing energies are focused together, they materially alter reality. Not
everything is cured obviously. Not everything can be cured. But healing and
blessing are released and we respond to it with.
prayer takes many forms. I’ve heard of cases, and even been part of them, where
someone has a terminal illness, and their friends and loved ones gather round
them to tell them how important they were in their lives, to tell them how much
they loved them, spend time in grace and blessing. Despite the fact that they
are weakened almost unto death from their illness, they will develop an almost
miraculous strength for a few days, and bounce back before death overcomes
gets us through, sometimes monstrous inhumanity. Aleksander Solsynitzen’s short
novel “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” describes how innocent prisoners
in Stalin’s Gulag used focused prayer to give them an image of hope to keep
them alive with meaning and purpose in the midst of wanton arbitrariness and
degradation. Focused spiritual concentration can become an enormously powerful
force when you practice it day in and day out. It can give you vision and
purpose to get you on through the difficult days.
didn’t need the independent scientific studies from Harvard Medical School to
corroborate what we have already lived, that we have the spiritual power to channel
and release blessing and healing.
point out the bigger picture and I remind you of the personal dimension of the
transcendent that is all around us, to simply say what Jesus said, ‘do not be
afraid to use it.’ Draw upon the power of the spirit, channel it for the good,
envision yourself healing, envision those around you being blessed. And watch
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