Saint Cecilia Catholic Community, Palm Springs, CA
Rev. Dcn. David Justin Lynch
Acts 2:1-11 Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-31, 34
Galatians 5:16-25 John 15:26-27; 16:12-15
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
The Greek New Testament uses the word “pneuma” hundreds of times. Its usual meaning is “spirit”, but it can also mean “breath” or “wind.” That is what Jesus was describing when He said that the apostles would receive the Holy Spirit, and what the apostles did in fact receive on Pentecost; indeed, today’s first lesson from the Book of Acts describes a “strong driving wind” that filled the whole house and brought tongues of fire.
So it’s natural that when we think of the Holy Spirit, we think of an invisible power, something felt or experienced, rather than a person we can see. However, the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity whom we celebrate today. I’m sure you remember the hymn [sing] “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.” Persons, however, are either male or female. So, is the Holy Spirit, or to use old English, the Holy Ghost, a male or female person? Today’s Gospel speaks of the Holy Spirit as a “He”, as do many traditional theologians. Why? How did we get there?
Unlike English, many other languages, such as Spanish, classify nouns by gender, as masculine or feminine. In Spanish, nouns are preceded by an article, that describes their gender, “el” for masculine, “la” for feminine. Hence we speak of “el piso” meaning “the floor”, or “la mensa” meaning “the table.” Latin and Greek have not only masculine and feminine nouns, but neuter as well. In other words, those languages have not only he’s and she’s, but it’s as well. To complicate the picture even more, words that are a particular gender in one language do not always translate to a word of the same gender in another language.
The first scriptures were written in Hebrew. The Hebrew version of the Book of Genesis uses the word “ruach” to identify the Spirit that moved over the waters at the beginning of creation. “Ruach” is a feminine noun. However, when the scriptures were first translated from Hebrew to Greek, in what’s known as the “Septuagint”, the scholars used the Greek word “pneuma” which is a neuter noun, to translate the Hebrew word “ruach”. And when Saint Jerome translated the scriptures from the Greek Septuagint to the Latin Vulgate, the word he used was “Spiritus”, where the Hebrew had used “Ruach” and the Greek used “pneuma”. “Spiritus” is a masculine noun. Thus, the Greek version of today’s Gospel uses the “pneuma” while the Latin version uses “Spiritus”. This equivalency of vocabulary is pretty much found throughout the Bible, and since many modern languages are in part derived from Latin, it’s easy to see why the English translations of the Bible have consistently used “he” in describing the Holy Spirit, particularly in the patriarchal social and political context that existed in the church, when the first translations were done. In the days of those first translations, women were second class citizens, and in some churches, they still are.
If we go along with that program, women are completely shut out of the Trinity. Somehow, that’s not fair, and the church is all the worse for it. Not only have traditional churches shut out the gifts ordained women bring to ministry, but they’ve shut them out theologically, too. A Holy Trinity that consists of Father, Son and a male Holy Spirit would have us believe that nothing female could possibly be divine. Looking at the situation from a fundamental fairness view, should not at least one of the people in the Trinity be a woman? That is not only a good idea for the church, it’s also theologically sound. Here’s why.
The Holy Trinity is like a family, the Family of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But a biological family is not possible without a father and a mother. So, even though the Holy Spirit is not named Mother, the Holy Spirit possesses the characteristics of Divine Motherhood as the Father possesses those of Divine Fatherhood. The Holy Spirit’s activities are expressed in ‘giving birth,’ ‘nurturing,’ ‘forming,’ and ‘mothering’ all the Father’s creation.
The Divine Feminine, also called Divine Wisdom, or Sophia, or the Holy Spirit, was present during the Creation of the world by the Father. The first appearance of the Holy Spirit in scripture is when the Spirit of God moved upon the waters at the beginning of creation. That spirit was Divine Wisdom, which existed before God created male persons, and even before God made the earth. Divine Wisdom Herself speaks to us about Her origin in the Book of Proverbs in Chapter 8, Verses 22 and 23, “The Lord begot me, from the beginning of His works, the forerunner of His deeds of long ago; from of old I was formed, at the first, before the earth.” Divine Wisdom and the Holy Spirit are identified as being one and the same person in the Old Testament Book of Wisdom, the richest source of information about wisdom, and it is there that we find the strong connection between wisdom and the Holy Spirit. In its first chapter, we read that wisdom is a kindly spirit. Wisdom is the spirit of God that fills the whole world, and is all-embracing. The Book of Wisdom speaks of wisdom as the breath of the power of God. Scripture intertwines the concept of the spirit of God with the wisdom of God.
In the eleventh chapter of Isaiah, we find the exposition of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, and wonder and awe at the power of God. The first among them is translated, “Sophia” in Greek, “sapienta” in Latin. Both are feminine nouns in their respective languages. Throughout the Old Testament, “wisdom” is described in feminine terms. Proverbs, Chapter 8, begins, “Does not Wisdom call, and Understanding raise her voice? On the top of the heights along the road, at the crossroads, she takes her stand.”
But what exactly is wisdom? It is not knowledge. Many computers are more knowledgeable than most people. The hard-drives of our computers have more recallable knowledge than we do. Wisdom is not intelligence. Computers perform complex and abstract intellectual operations, like analyzing and predicting whether a lender can expect to be repaid, or whether an insurance company should accept a particular risk. Wisdom, however, is about developing goals and skillfully handling situations to achieve those goals. Wisdom is the ability to choose the best course of action from among alternatives, taking into account the context in which the choice occurs. Wisdom is practical, down-to-earth street smarts. A wise person is one with good judgment, based on experience and/or ability, to quickly perceive and analyze one’s surroundings, to figure out what action is appropriate.
Today’s Epistle gives us principles for wise choices. It contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Those traits sound to me more feminine than masculine. and are what women bring to the table in the church’s lay and ordained ministry to a greater extent than most men. The church, and the world at large, needs those traits for survival. Consider their opposites, identified in today’s Epistle as works of the flesh: idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissensions, envy, drunkenness, and the like. Ask yourself which set of behaviors makes for a better world. Do we use the principles arising from the works of the flesh, or those originating from the fruits of the spirit, for individuals to make appropriate life choices? And should not organizations, countries, and the world as a whole, do likewise? It’s not a hard choice.
Look at what happened in Waco, Texas this past week, where nine people were killed in a fight between rival motorcycle gangs. The works of the flesh were on display in all their gory, and I truly mean gory, not glory. The fruits of the spirit were nowhere to be found last Sunday in Waco. Consider the opposite. What if all those folks were members of progressive churches rather than gangs, worshipping God on Sunday morning, and living the Gospel, instead of killing each other at the Twin Peaks Restaurant, whose marketing modus operandi is demeaning women by dressing their waitresses in low cut outfits?
We’ve all heard about uncomplimentary names and other discriminatory behavior directed at people of color, LGBT people, immigrants, those who need the social safety net, and members of certain religions. Some very visible groups practice hatred of those outside mainstream white society as a way of life, funded and encouraged by the wealthiest Americans to attract support, y promulgating fear of one’s neighbor to obtain power over those who are a threat to their wealth. What you see in that conduct is the works of the flesh in action, selfishness, anger, hatred and idolizing money in place of God. What if the wealthiest one percent replaced fear with love, joy, peace, kindness, generosity and gentleness?
What this is all saying, is that the work the Holy Spirit begun at Pentecost had more yet to accomplish, and still has a lot accomplish in our world today. God sent the Holy Spirit for a purpose, to motivate and perpetuate the work that Jesus started. The Holy Spirit presents Herself at Pentecost as a transformative agent. The Holy Spirit accomplishes Her work by changing the world. The first thing She did at Pentecost was allow everyone to understand one another’s language. Should not all of us learn to speak more than one language? In the Southwest United States where we live, it helps one get a job and have more friends.
When the apostles received the Holy Spirit, things changed. They were no longer a small group that met among themselves. The apostles became the church. They preached. They baptized. They shared one another’s goods. They healed. They fed the poor. They started communities. They celebrated the Eucharist. They did everything Christians should be doing today.
The Holy Spirit was the motivating force behind what the Apostles did. She can be the motivating force for us, too, if we allow the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Divine Feminine, the Divine Wisdom, to pervade our lives, our families, and the communities in which we live. The Holy Spirit performs a mothering role for us, of unconditional love, acceptance and caring. The Holy Spirit sent at Pentecost was God’s gift to all of us, to drive the establishment of the Kingdom of God.
A prominent thought among early Christians was “parousia” or the second coming of Jesus. Many of them believed that the Parousia would be in bodily form, with Jesus descending from Heaven to earth. Indeed, the Bible says Jesus is coming back. How, we do not know, so we can’t limit ourselves to believe in just one format, for how it might occur.
The late George Bernard Shaw once said, “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” Hence, what about the possibility that the second coming of Jesus, is the coming of God’s kingdom to be established on earth, to promote God’s justice? What about an earth where the Divine Feminine values of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, supplant idolatry, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, envy, and drunkenness? The Holy Spirit, the Divine Feminine, the Divine Wisdom relates to “Why Not” rather than “Why”, to keep humanity’s focus on life going forward, rather than life in the past, just like the forward focus of the action of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Conservatives operate from the premise that what works in the past will work in the future. However, that is not realistic, because change is a constant, requiring continuous adaptation. Sexism, racism, anger, greed, and idolatry were part of the old aeon of ancient history. The Holy Spirit at Pentecost was not an invitation to continue life as it had been in the past. Instead, the Holy Spirit at Pentecost completed the work of Jesus to inaugurate a new aeon. She was intended to set off a continuing chain of reaction. As the Holy Spirit motivated the formation of the church, by making humanity to be part of continuing change, we move on through life as a pilgrim people, as the Church of God, one family of believers, with the Holy Spirit, Divine Wisdom, and the Divine Feminine, as the mighty wind pushing us forward. AMEN.