WE USUALLY think of the spirit, or the soul, as being that part of us which is invisible, and which returns to God when we die. But the spirit, or the soul, is often seen. We catch glimpses of it in some unsuspecting face in the street, or in the train, maybe. A stranger, without knowing it, and in some kind of personal dream or state of thoughtfulness, loses his public face and shows his inner being. He doesn’t know that it is happening.
We ourselves do it. We are taken off our guard, as it were, and somebody in our vicinity sees what we ourselves cannot see, unless we are a great artist like Rembrandt, who painted his own portrait over and over again — not because he was vain, but because he wanted to know who he really was.
I remember a friend seeing a portrait of Francis Bacon by Lucian Freud: two modern artists who sometimes shock us when they go beyond what we normally think of as a likeness.
Some time ago, on TV, I watched a pope’s funeral. By courtesy of modern communication, we have sometimes been witnesses of such a revelation of the Holy Spirit as no previous age could have experienced it. There is the Eternal City itself; there are the countless spiritual faces; and there is the Spirit of God, sometimes seen both in Muslim and Christian cultures. In kings and presidents, and choirs and priests, in backpackers and pilgrims, and in ourselves, as we watched, this televised universe of flesh and Spirit.
The Spirit is common among us, but never commonplace. It is simply wonderful and beautiful in whoever it is revealed. It sometimes travels around, invading spiritual privacy for the sake of spiritual recognition. At Pentecost comes this Holy Spirit, not a gentle wispy thing but a tumultuous aspect of God and his Son, which shakes the house and fills the world with fire and revolution, and a human heart with beauty and love. It was at that moment that the little group of Christ’s friends and apostles received the Spirit as a gift. And this is still the only way in which any of us can have it — as a gift, but a gift for the taking, like grace.
Few of us remember when we took it, this holy gift, for the first time; it just seems to be in our hands. And it certainly dwells in our faces for other people to see, this spirituality. On certain occasions — it could be at a concert, or in an old empty church when rearranging the flowers, or looking up its history, or when we are in the garden, or at Liverpool Street Station — it will come to us, uncovered, as it were, this Spirit.
Our faith tells us that we are both guarded and activated by it, this Spirit of Jesus. He said that he would leave it with us, that it would be a comfort to us. And it is. He told us to call it the Comforter — what a wonderful name for his Spirit.
I think about this at this time of the year, with Christmas approaching, this child approaching, this festival coming towards us, and winter, too, which, in the Stour Valley, comes usually in the New Year and not before Christmas.