This week as we commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit, I muse about the mystery of expression, the capacity for clear thinking, and the limits of human knowledge without this Spirit. I like to think myself a writer and a teacher whose livelihood, reputation, and clout depend on words. So much of my struggle has to do with the ability to capture the truth and deliver it in an eloquent, yet straightforward manner so that my readers and my students can grasp the nebulous, inchoate cloud of what I am trying to express.
Many times I come up awkward, sloppy, klutzy or even empty handed. Sometimes thoughts wring me in a wrestling match where I am unable to disengage and arrange the words from the idea, the essence, the Truth of what I am trying to express. As much as I try sometimes the beauty, the exactness of the thought or feeling, I cannot accurately cloak with words. Words like a fabric cut too short cannot cover the immensity of an idea.
The other complication is that the vessel of thinking, our human mind, is also limited. Like a clay pot, it is so many cubits wide and long. While amazingly it can be stuffed with many things, strings of ideas, theories, memories, and even with imaginations that can spiral into entirely new galaxies, the mind has its boundaries. It can know only so much as its sentient powers allow.
I argue with an atheist colleague about this all the time. You cannot know God or any spiritual reality if you rely only on the senses. Faith is question of epistemology–how we claim to know the things we know. If as a scientist you claim to only know what you can derive from your senses, then it would be hard to make the deductive jump from the physical to the spiritual. The workings of the Spirit can be experienced through the senses but cannot be proven from them. My colleague insists you can only know from the material reality and as such because God cannot be proven from such, no thinking logical person can accept such a claim. God is a delusion, a figment of the mind. Just because you cannot see God who is unknowable with your senses does not mean he doesn’t exist. But you can’t make the claim that He does either, otherwise you can claim other unknowable beings are possible, beings such as purple fairies that go around painting polka dots.
The issue I have with my colleague is that they are not willing to admit that the human, material capacity is for thought is limited. Believing that the human mind can know everyhing in and of itself is intellectual pride. It’s like believing that the clay pot can fit the entire known universe in itself. How proud to believe that your noggin can contain the Creator? That the oh-so-small container can comprehend the mind of its maker? I saw a bumper sticker on a Nissan parked at a monastery parking lot; it said, “don’t always trust what you think.” The Desert Father’s and Mothers, wise early chroniclers of humanpsychology, made the case that our thoughts can be faulty. It is in the realm of thought that the spiritual war between good and evil takes place. The demons are noetic beings and can enter into our thoughts pricking them with dark reasonings. Satan they say is a smooth talking lawyer able to make a convincing case for evil using the most logical most cogent argument. Human logic, reasoning has provided the rationale for arguments for the Holocaust, war, genocide and other enlightened acts of reason. Human capacity for reason is tainted by the Fall, not just physically, but ontologically as well.
St Theophan the Recluse stated it plainly where there is pride, the Holy Spirit does not show itself. Intellectuals with many degrees after their names are prime candidates for spiritual pride. Pride keeps the Spirit away so they can never really “see” the spiritual truths that other more humble yet less educated people can. That’s because the Spirit acts on a faculty of the human soul that goes beyond the rational thinking brain, that inner part of the soul known as the “nous” that encompasses the thinking part, but is larger and deeper than it as it involves the heart or the emotional and moral part of the psyche.
And here we are this week at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit appears in the icon as swirls of blue waves of wind. Over the Apostles a flame of fire, although the Scriptutal term is “tongues of fire.” What statement is this icon making on the subject of expression and thought? The truth with a capital T requires divine revelation. Without the Wisdom that comes from the maker the human mind is but a noisy barrell, a broken pot. We cannot know the truth cannot express the truth without divine intervention. Even with our thinking world we must aim at kenosis at humility of thought. Erasing our own assumptions of what reality is and making room for the Holy Spirit to give us the light and the tongue to express the mysteries that we cannot express with our own mind. The Holy Spirit is like a light that comes on making it easier to use our faculty of light. In other cases it is like eyeglasses or even a microscope.
We cannot know the truth let alone express it correctly without the energy and force of this Divine Spirit, the Light whose power gives us the ability to see correctly the spiritual truths we would otherwise miss.
For this reason I have always considered writing a spiritual act. The more I pray and fast, the more the Spirit would guide me. The less “noisy” I am with my own thoughts, the clearer the message from the Word.
May the Holy Spirit give all those who think, who write, who create the Light to express the Truth that transcends words.
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