The Age of the Spirit

In this post I talk about a couple books and ask a few questions about the Holy Spirit.

The late Phyllis Tickle wrote much late in life about the age of the church that we are coming to understand as the Great Emergence. The Great Emergence comes to us almost predictably as Tickle and many other historians and theologians have pointed out the pattern that it so neatly fits into. It is a pattern of a major shift in the way the church exists in the world that comes roughly every 500-years.

These shifts have followed the coming of Jesus Christ, the fall of Rome, the Great Schism, and the Protestant Reformation; a 500th anniversary observed in 2017. And now, it is thought we are living through and into the Great Emergence characterized by non-religious forms of spiritual engagement in non-hierarchical settings in communities (or not) that look very different from traditional Christian church.

Tickle explains these forms of worship and community in depth in her 2012 book Emergence Christianity: What it is, Where it is Going, and Why it Matters. Tickle discusses churches that gather in traditional sanctuaries with couches in small groups instead of pews, communities that engage the Bible primarily through artistic expression more than the spoken word, and groups that meet in internet chat rooms instead of in person (pre COVID!).

In these settings, experience is a significant source of theological knowledge, more so than tradition. This might sound somewhat strange but Tickle helps us out in another book; 2014’s The Age of the Spirit: How the Ghost of an Ancient Controversy is Shaping the Church. In this book, Tickle unpacks the history of the church’s understanding and articulation of what the Holy Spirit is and does and how it works.

This history is fraught with major conflicts but ultimately arrives at the Pentecostal and charismatic movement of the early 1900’s. A movement that now claims nearly 25% of Christian believers around the world, began at 312 Azusa St. in Los Angeles under William Seymour. The movement started with people’s experience of the Holy Spirit directly impacting their lives in an old horse stable turned sanctuary. The flies and the smell of livestock lingered, but the Spirit moved through that place and transformed people into believers.

The Holy Spirit is strange and powerful. Descriptions of God the Father and God the Son are often easier for us to latch onto. Easier for us to trust. The Spirit is described as one that falls like a dove and blows like the wind, going here and there freely. It’s not always as clear what the Spirit is up to but we are given the impression that it is up to something because it was sent by Jesus to inhabit us, inspire us, and interpret us.

I expected to find in The Age of the Spirit prayer practices for connecting to the Holy Spirit or at least some solid meditative writing to better wrap my own head around this elusive One. Instead the book ends with a summation of the strange but exciting conclusion that the Holy Spirit is in the world and in us. The Holy Spirit is different than the Father or the Son because it is the Presence of God that we directly interact with.

All of the above has led me to a question for you and for me, which is “How am I being made aware of the Holy Spirit’s voice and action in my life?”

I think if you were to earnestly ask that question to a family member or spouse, you would first get a weird look. But when asked a second time, I really think people can think of somewhere in their heart and/or mind and/or spirit where something is niggling. Something that just pokes them in a direction that is a bit exciting and a bit scary all at once. I frame it this way because I don’t think we’re meant to ask these questions alone. I don’t think we can do life without the mirror of our brothers and sisters reflecting ourselves back to us and helping us stay the course.

So, I wonder, where is the Holy Spirit stirring you? In what ways is the Holy Spirit calling you closer to God? And how will you live into that? Your answer may be the first of its kind.