Monday, June 29, 2009

The Spirit's Presence

Last night my wife Beth and I had a fantastic meal at a local restaurant called Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be Will Be—and no, I did not miss the irony). I had redfish, one of my favorites, topped with an assortment of peppers and crabmeat, and an unearthly seafood cream sauce. Beth had fried green tomatoes with crabmeat—a Southern delicacy. It was awesome. As we bowed to thank the Lord for such a meal a series of thoughts raced through my mind, and then two very distinct memories of similar moments of insight (forthcoming in another blog).

The first thought regarded all the time and effort that went into making the dish. Being a fisherman, I thought of all the folks involved in catching that redfish, which to my knowledge is not commercially available, so someone had to sacrifice for Jesus and go red fishing, and someone had to make lures, fishing line, reels, anchors and a boat and motor. Then they had to get the fish from the Gulf to Jackson and to Que Sera in a hurry. Then I thought of the hours and hours that had been spent by many people perfecting the sauce, and of the cooks, the waiters, the English brewers of New Castle Brown Ale, and even of the architect who designed the building, the men who built it, the painters, the decorators, and of the beautiful fans that kept the outdoor area fairly cool. And right behind my chair was a wonderfully conceived flower garden, full of color and obviously loved and nurtured. Our waitress told us she was new, but she worked hard to make our evening as wonderful as she could—and she did.

As we break through the veil of Western Deism and think of the Holy Spirit’s presence and work in the light of the relationship Jesus has established with the human race, and indeed with the cosmos, we are ready for a simple question of enormous significance.

Why do we thank the Lord for the food?

Don’t get me wrong. Of course we thank the Lord for food and beauty, for life and relationships, for breath, for our wives and husbands and families, but is it not the case that when we thank the Lord for a meal, we are in fact speaking volumes about the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit, as well as the ‘ordinary’ people who are involved in the meal?

When we thank the Lord for our meal we are instinctively or intuitively operating out of a reality that scarcely makes the front page of our rational theological discussions. In our prayers are we not acknowledging the participation (perhaps unwitting) of each and every person in the Lord’s lavish gifts to us? Our heart theology is way better than our head theology. As my friend Ken Blue says, “Thank God, most people live better than their theology.”

I will probably never meet the men or women who got up at 5:00 am to go red fishing, (if you read this, I am ready to participate) or the people who designed and built the reels, line, boat and motor they used, or the truck to haul the fish to Jackson, or the designer and manufacturer of those cool fans. And I will never meet the chef whose great great grandmother created that awesome seafood cream sauce in her kitchen on the bayous of Louisiana, and handed down its secrets to be tweaked through the generations. But before I was conscious of what I was doing, I was thanking the Lord for this beautiful moment and this great food—praising Him for His gift given to us through the time and effort and heart, and perhaps blood, sweat and tears of hundreds of people.

We all do the same thing every day. Yet, theologically we cannot, or perhaps will not, see it. We have so separated Jesus Christ from His creation that we swim in the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s presence and blessing, oblivious to everything but ourselves and perhaps a few friends. Our shrunken, distant Jesus forces us to live with the assumption that there is no Holy Spirit in the ‘ordinary’ moments of our human existence. While our hearts betray our blindness when we thank the Lord ‘for the meal we are about to receive,’ we are left to look over and beyond our humanity to find the Holy Spirit and a spirituality in another world—usually one of our own devising. All of which means that we look over and beyond people, devaluing their existence and participation, as we chase the ‘supernatural.’ This is the revulsion people feel when we in the Church act as if we are ‘in’ and others are ‘out,’ and as if we are onto ‘the real thing’ whilst others a ‘just people.’

In Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is present, not absent, and He is present with all of the life and beauty, creativity and music, burdens and joys and loves of the blessed Trinity, whether anyone sees it and believes or not. My yearning is that we would be able to see each moment in the light of Jesus, to perceive and enjoy the Holy Spirit’s presence, and participate in His fruitfulness with complete awareness. And what will happen when we do? If the Holy Spirit is able to do so much everyday around this planet through a human race that is as blind as bats, what will happen when we begin to see? What will happen when instead of imposing our own ideas and agendas, our pride and prejudice upon the Holy Spirit’s presence and work, we actually stop and pray, asking the Holy Spirit to enlighten us so that we can participate as those who understand what is going on in and through and around us? What will happen when instead of unwitting opposition to the Holy Spirit, we give ourselves whole heartedly to participate in His life-giving, fruit-producing presence?

We either see ourselves and others as merely human, with an occasional dash of ‘supernatural’ inspiration, or we see ourselves and others as those included in Jesus Christ and in His anointing in the Holy Spirit. The former will produce pride and incessant striving, followed by more pride, then boredom and burnout, and the divisive minimization of our human existence as we chase the spirituality of the non-human god. The latter will produce dignity and hope, and a regard for one another beyond race, religion, and all prejudice. For we will see ourselves and others as brothers and sisters (blind as we may be) equally included in the Trinitarian life of God. We will look for the Trinitarian life emerging in and through the ‘humanity’ of others, and we will cherish, celebrate and do what we can to encourage its emergence. Seeing ourselves and others included in Jesus’ anointing will give us the freedom to embrace our fishing and cooking, our mothering and fathering, our relationships, our burdens and joys, our ideas and designs as not our own at all, but as our participation in the presence of the Holy Spirit in person.

Holy Spirit, we are blind lot. Thank you for your patience with us and for the wonderful way you share the life of Jesus and his Father with us. Thank you for your utter determination to bring about the full emergence of the Trinitarian life in and through us, until the whole cosmos is alive with the Great Dance of the Triune God. We pray for and give you permission to reveal Jesus Christ in his glory, and our place in him.


Anonymous said...

Mind blowing stuff! Thank you brother!

Ron said...

I am hesitant about commenting because anything I say may cause more blindness of the spirit's presence who is being revealed here. But I feel so free and so accepted let it ride. I'm floating.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Thank you! That has been a question by many people, why give thanks to God when the farmers, fishermen, cooks, etc, did "all the work"?

They did, along with God, so we give thanks to God for all of humanity working together in his spirit of unity and participation.

I led a gathering of people from several different denominations this past weekend, our theme being Reconciliation (last year was Unity in Christ) and we found reconciliation and unity all in one. (Since obviously we could not have unity without reconciliation)

The host and staff of the park where we held the gathering were participating in their service to us, and even participated in our services when they had time between serving us and their guests. Even some of their guests participated (who were not a part of our group) and many felt blessed because we included them and not judged them.

Everything comes together because all are fitly joined together by the holy spirit, who binds us together in Christ.


Pastor Paul said...

Great post Baxter. My post, currently , "COME TO PAPA" describes exactly what you are talking about. It concerns my Non Church Going grandfather.

I look back now and see Jesus all over that man. Thanks for helping me see it.

Paul Kurts

Warren said...

Baxter, this probably isn't what you had in mind in writing this blog, but I think that the implications of these thoughts for the way Christians look at their participation in the economy are huge. This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately, as the global financial crisis and economic downturn have done their thing.

In churches, we are typically taught that spending money, being consumers, is an evil thing and that we should give more of our money to 'mission' or 'charities'. I'm most definitely not arguing that Christians shouldn't be generous towards those in need or to mission work. But often I find that preaching about this issue reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what happens when people spend money.

What happens is that other people benefit. Picking up from your blog, not only has the farmer, the grocer, the chef and the waitress given a gift to the diner, but the diner has given a gift to them. Eating a restaurant meal has given employment and income to many, many people. If you and me and lots of other people stop spending from what we have, like so many preachers urge us to, then the economy does what it's been doing this past year or so, and voila, we get more needy people than we had before - the unemployed.

Then we get the effects of that multiplying and accelerating (economists reading this will know those terms!) and more and more people end up in need. As we've seen in the falling off of donations this past year, the income loss by those who lose their jobs reduces the capacity of people to give to missions and charities.

If the church's teaching had its way, we would collectively contribute to an economic outcome that made the Great Depression look like a picnic.

So, while knowing the Father through the Son by the Spirit most certainly leads people to a proper evaluation of what they spend their money on and a generous spirit towards mission work and charitable efforts among the helpless, disenfranchised and poor, I would love to see the church cease from the incorrect and damaging guilt trip it tries to send us on when we buy a new sports coat, or a car, or go to nice restaurant.

China has lifted more people out of poverty by encouraging economic growth than all the charities combined could ever dream of. Yes, there are still great needs in China and elsewhere that many wonderful organisations are working hard to combat, and people like us are led to support for the sake of Christ's message. But it's not unChristian to celebrate the skills, passions, interests and talents of all his people around the world by buying the meals they cook for us, the suits they tailor for us, the sports gear they make for us, etc.

I believe that this is yet another example of the false separation of 'sacred' and 'secular' and of the failure of evangelicals to appreciate the presence of God and His activity in all the affairs of mankind.

I heard you say a couple of years ago in Sydney that we need people to work through the implications of Perichoresis theology for a whole range of topics, including economics.

Do you agree with what I'm suggesting, or have I strayed in some way on this point?

Anonymous said...

Hey Warren,
I just wanted to say that I appreciated the points you made.

Given the Light and Life that's disturbing (!) and disrupting the routines of so many christian individuals, I think it will be a miracle to keep the transformative light OUT of the church's idea of economics!! What is set to come is repeated moments of good intentions being completely floored by a deeper, immutable Understanding.

All the best with your train of thought -- I can't wait to see the implications and applications of such ideas. I, too, have heard Baxter talk about theological implications, and I was thrilled to read what you've being intuitatively mulling over and learning about.

Anonymous said...

WOW! Non-religious Christianity is new to me! This is the year I realized that when Jesus said "It is finished!" It really was! I have this (silly) wish to be able to push a rewind button and re-live life "standing fast in the liberty where in chrsit has made me free". Perhaps He will redeem my wasted years and restore what I might have had and been if I had not believed the religious (performance-based) LIE! Much more than believed it - I was controlled by it and served and hid from an angry God to just beyond my recent 58th birthday. Most devastating was the church split 15 years ago where I "made my get-away". It is refreshing to live intentionally and purposefully -no matter how mundane- and know Father is pleased! Your article really hit home! Thanks ... Kasimira

Warren said...

Thanks for your encouragement, Amy.

Baxter, I would really appreciate your thoughts, either in a reply in these comments or perhaps a new post.

Grace and Peace