Who has seen the Holy Spirit? It’s a challenging question. Take a moment to think about it. Where have you seen the Holy Spirit? What does it look like? Of the three persons of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is the most elusive.
Ask us to point to a God who creates? That’s easy, we can point to a sunset, Yosemite National Park, or the Great Barrier Reef. Done. Picture God, the Son: likewise, most of us have an image in our mind of Jesus. We imagine him telling parables, healing the sick, breaking bread, and appearing to the disciples in his resurrected form. But the Holy Spirit? How are we to picture this? Nor, I should add, is the Bible particularly helpful in solving this conundrum. In the second chapter of Acts, the Spirit is described as tongues of fire, and in the third chapter of John, we are told that it is akin to a wandering wind. What can we do with that?
However, in the Gospels, we receive two helpful clues that — when placed together — offer us a pretty good picture of how to recognize the Holy Spirit when we see it.
Think of the advocate as someone who truly has your back.
The first clue comes directly from Jesus, who says: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of Truth.” So, the Holy Spirit looks like an advocate. A dictionary definition of the word tells us that an “Advocate” is a supporter, a defender, someone who pleads on another’s behalf, someone who intercedes. Think of the advocate as someone who truly has your back.
The second clue is this. The Holy Spirit looks like Jesus. How do we know this? Listen again to our Savior who says, “You know [the Spirit], because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.”
How does any of this help us to flesh out a picture of the Holy Spirit? Well consider; the Holy Spirit is an advocate who looks a lot like Jesus — which means, that when we see someone acting like Jesus — bearing the love of Christ to another. Bingo! We’ve just seen the Holy Spirit at work.
So, a good piece of evidence indicating that the Holy Spirit is truly dwelling within you is when you see the kind of compassion that Jesus has for the people and world around you. When the Holy Spirit is at work within you, there is no room left for indifference. If the Holy Spirit is active in your life, rather than finding yourself unmoved by the challenges facing our world, you will discover quite the opposite.
The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.
Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel says this: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference…” And what’s the opposite of indifference? It is concern. It’s caring. Compassion is the opposite of indifference.
In truth, I believe most people want to make a difference in the world, if even in a small way. We want our lives to count for something. But making this happen isn’t going to come from insulating ourselves from the trials and tribulations of the world. It comes from directly engaging them.
Anyone, no matter their age, intellect or experience can be an image of the Holy Spirit at work. Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia once talked about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child. The winner was a four-year-old boy whose next-door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his mother asked him what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy replied, “Nothing, I just helped him cry.”
What that little boy did is evidence of compassion. That’s not someone trying to prove a point, earn accolades, or defend their turf. That’s simply someone who cares, someone who can lay themselves aside for a time for the benefit of someone else.
The sacrament of Holy Baptism is largely about being equipped with what a person needs in order to live into that individual’s calling to follow Christ. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the assurance that God is with us. However, this gift doesn’t end here. The gift of the Holy Spirit is all about empowerment. It means God is with this person, just as God is with all of us, but more than this, it also means that God has expectations for us in our lives and in our witness to the world. These expectations include the hope that we will not rest in the complacency of being named as a member of the family of God, but rather that we realize there is no rest for us until everyone has the opportunity to receive that grace as well.
What does the Holy Spirit look like? It looks like you, like me … like all of us when we follow the will of God, in Jesus’ name.
Text adapted from a homily given by the Rev. Melanie McCarley, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Massachusetts.