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Age of the Spirit

May 30, 2023

Kenneth Kovacs writes in this month’s Messenger about the “Age of the Spirit,” and reflects on this season of ministry at Catonsville Presbyterian Church. Be sure to subscribe to updates if you haven’t already. The Messenger is also available for download.

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Late in his life, Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth (1886-1965) spoke of a coming Age of the Spirit when the church will require a theology of the Holy Spirit to meet the demands of the times.

I believe we are living in such an age (and have been for a while), and that the turbulent times we’re facing as a church with rapid decline might have less to do with the fact that we have lost our way (as some suspect), and more to do with the fact that the Holy Spirit is shaking our foundations, forcing us to get off our butts to move, to go where Christ wants to take us, enticing us to give up old patterns of knowing, old ways of being, and opening us up for something radically new, creative, bold. I’m not talking about a free-wheeling movement of the Spirit doing whatever she wants, but the work of the Holy Spirit, which is firmly grounded, connected, and committed to the ongoing power of Christ’s resurrection.

The Spirit of the risen Christ is pulsating throughout the universe, a Spirit who is working deep against the defensive structures of the human ego, yearning, struggling, groaning to realize something within us and among us that we could never achieve nor imagine on our own.

And it should not be surprising that the same Spirit—who searches the depths of God’s own nature, as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 2, a God who reveals the depths of love through the power of resurrection—would be at work in the world in ways that are startling, disturbing, conflict-producing, and even chaotic.

Decades ago, at worship in a Catholic church in St.-Germain-en-Laye, outside Paris, on Pentecost, I heard the priest talking about L’esprit audace, the audacity of the Spirit. I love that image.

The Holy Spirit is daring, audacious, uncontainable, recklessly bold, intrepidly daring, adventurous. The Holy Spirit is risky, sportive, and playful.  Michael Mitton writes,

“The Holy Spirit is not a tame bird, kept in a clean cage, to be released for short bursts of charismatic meetings… The Holy Spirit makes his habitation in some of the wildest, darkest places this world has to offer… The Holy Spirit is wonderfully free, able to go to the dark places of our own lives, for healing to the dark unvisited places of our churches, and to the dark and demon-infested places of our society.”

But we need to trust where these experiences are taking us and not pull back in fear.

On June 16 and 17, the Session will have a retreat facilitated by pastor, writer, coach, and consultant, Roy Howard. We will gather to pray and listen and discern and explore what the Holy Spirit is calling us toward as a congregation post-COVID. We will be digging deep into Acts 2:42-47 and Ephesians 4:1-15, asking the questions, “Who is God calling us to be? What is God calling us to do?” We invite you to keep the Session in your prayers during this time.

One of the oldest prayers of the church is Veni, Creator Spiritus. “Come, Creator Spirit.” It’s one of my favorite prayers and I say it often. It’s a prayer, as one theologian put it, of “open surrender to the absolute creativity of God.” When the church trusts in the movement of the Spirit, open to where the Spirit wants to take it, then the church will be free, truly free to be as revolutionary and as radical as we know the gospel to be. The church will be liberated to be as creative and imaginative as the age demands.

The Holy Spirit is continually creating and recreating the world and our lives from within the generative power of God’s redeeming love, inspiring us to imagine new ways of being the church. Trusting in the work of the Spirit, the church will be unshackled – infinitely swift – and free to move down whatever road the Spirit wishes to take us!