Would that we realized the truth of that! If we recognized how the Holy Spirit is present in everything – physical creation, love, human creativity, and morality – perhaps we could hold more things together in a fruitful tension rather than so often opposing them and having the different gifts of the Holy Spirit fight each other within our lives. What does this mean?
We have too many unhealthy dichotomies in our lives. Too often we find ourselves choosing between things that should not be in opposition to one another and we are in the unhappy position of having to pick between two things which are both, in themselves , good . Thus, we live in a world within which, generally speaking, the spiritual is set against the physical, certain moral precepts are set against creativity, wisdom is set against education, commitment against sex, conscience against pleasure, and personal fidelity against creative and professional success.
But obviously there is something wrong here. If one force, the person of the Holy Spirit, is the single source that animates all of these things then clearly we should not be in the position where we have to choose between them. Ideally we should be choosing both because the one, same Spirit undergirds both.
Is this true? Is the Holy Spirit both the force of gravity and the source of love? Yes. At least if the Scriptures are to be believed. They tell us that the Holy Spirit is both a physical and a spiritual force, the source of all creativity and all morality all at the same time.
We first meet the person of the Holy Spirit in the opening line of the bible: “In the beginning there was a formlesss void and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters … ” In the early chapters of the scripture, the Holy Spirit is presented as a physical force, a wind that comes from the very mouth of God and not only shapes and orders physical creation but is in fact the energy the lies at the base of everything, animate and inanimate alike: “Take away our breath, and everything returns to dust.”
The ancients believed that there was a soul in everything and that soul, which was God’s breath, held everything together and gave it meaning. They did not understand, as we do today, the workings of the infra-atomic world, how the tiniest particles and energy waves themselves possess erotic, electrical charges, how hydrogen seeks out oxygen, and how at its most elemental level physical reality is bursting with energies that attract and repulse each other just as people do. They could not explain these things scientifically the way we can, but they recognized, just as we do, that there is already some form of love inside all things, however inanimate. They attributed all of this to God’s breath, the wind that comes from God’s mouth and ultimately animates rocks, water, animals, and human beings.
But they also understood that this same breath that animates and orders physical creation is also the source of all wisdom, harmony, peace, creativity, morality , and fidelity . God’s breath, was understood to be as moral as it is physical , as harmonious as it is creative, and as wise as it is fertile. For them, the breath of God was one force and it did not contradict itself. The physical and the spiritual world were not set against each other. One spirit was understood to be the source of both. We need to understand things in that same way. We need to let the Holy Spirit, in all his and her fullness, animate our lives. What this means concretely is that we must not let ourselves be energized and driven too much by one part of the Spirit to the detriment of other parts of that same Spirit.
Thus, there should not be in our lives creativity in the absence of morality, education in the absence of wisdom, sex in the absence of commitment, pleasure in the absence of conscience, and artistic or professional achievement in the absence of personal fidelity. Especially there should not be a good life for us in the absence of justice for everyone. Conversely though we should be suspicious of ourselves when we have morality without creativity, when our wisdom spurns education, when our commitments are sterile, when our conscience has a problem with pleasure, and when our personal fidelity is defensive in the face of art and achievement. One Spirit is the author of all of these. Hence there must be equal attention paid to each of them.
Someone once said that a heresy is something that is nine-tenths true. That is also our problem with the Holy Spirit. We tend to be heretics, living out some truths to the detriment of others.
Ronald Rolheiser, a Roman Catholic priest and member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, is president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas.
He is a community-builder, lecturer and writer. His books are popular throughout the English-speaking world and his weekly column is carried by more than seventy newspapers worldwide.