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11 June 2011

Brewed Up Afresh

Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire, And lighten with celestial fire;
Thou the anointing Spirit art, Who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.

Thy blessed unction from above Is comfort, life, and fire of love;
Enable with perpetual light The dullness of our blinded sight.

Anoint and cheer our soiled face With the abundance of thy grace:
Keep far our foes, give peace at home; Where thou art guide no ill can come.

Teach us to know the Father, Son, And thee, of both, to be but One;
That through the ages all along This may be our endless song:
'Praise to thy eternal merit, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.'

One of the more distinct memories I have of my ordination, twenty-one years ago, up in the Catskill Mountains (the "Jewish Alps"), is the grin that came over my face while everybody was singing this, the mother of all Pentecost hymns. Why the grin?  Because in the midst of that festive assembly, every tongue got to sing (and confess) these lines: "Enable with perpetual light The dullness of our blinded sight".  

In the midst of that beautiful hymn there is a not-so-subtle reminder that some of what we church folk do can smack of a certain blindness, one described as "dull".  Such dullness is especially apparent when we become obsessed with our own power, rather than acknowledging the power that truly runs the church: the Creative Spirit of God, whose freedom is absolute and whose plans for us often don't match our own.  

As John Masefield put it exactly one hundred years ago, "The trained mind outs the upright soul, As Jesus said the trained mind might, Being wiser than the sons of light, But trained men's minds are spread so thin They let all sorts of darkness in; Whatever light man finds they doubt it, They love not light, but talk about it."  When we busy ourselves with talking about light, but ignore the light all around us, we certainly have become dull.  And when church becomes dull, the people are not fed.

In her Hymn to the Holy Spirit, the mystic Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) describes the cure for dullness: the fiery Spirit of God.  She makes it quite clear that when the Spirit of Life takes hold of us, the experience is not exactly sweet and pleasant: 

Oh fiery Spirit, praise to you
who stirs us with cymbals,
soothes us with the lute!
From you the minds of men catch fire; you know
how to set up the body’s
tent, to house the soul.

From both, the Will ascends: lends the Soul
sapience, to taste the world;
desires, to light it.
Our understandings make
music with you, set up the Spirit’s workshop
distilling golden deeds.
If our spirit is tempted to look
through that evil eye - or talk
with that ‘wicked’ tongue - you throw it back on the fire;
If our reason is down on the boards, knocked cold
by our own bad deeds, you pound it up even smaller
and brew it up afresh - like a new Creation.
When we "go bad", says Hildegard, we are simply thrown back on the fire, to be "pounded up even smaller" so we can be brewed up afresh.  When God's Spirit of Life transforms us, it changes us radically, rebuilds us from the ground up, fashions us into a new creation!  Thanks be to God!

Acts 2; Psalm 104

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