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The Breath of God

30 November, 1999

Celine Mangan OP writes of the role of the Spirit in creation and in the life of believers. “Thinking of the Spirit as ‘Trainer’,” she says, “could call us today to the discipline and action needed to take on responsibility to undo the harm we are doing to the environment.” Throughout the books of the […]

Celine Mangan OP writes of the role of the Spirit in creation and in the life of believers. “Thinking of the Spirit as ‘Trainer’,” she says, “could call us today to the discipline and action needed to take on responsibility to undo the harm we are doing to the environment.”

Throughout the books of the Bible, the Spirit is experienced as the Breath of God, revealing God to the world and giving life, not only to humans, but also to the whole of creation. The very first verse of the Bible speaks of the Spirit as a mighty wind which moves over the face of the deep, drawing aside, as it were, the veils of darkness to allow the beautiful earth to emerge (Gen 1:1).

In the second chapter of Genesis, God breathes the breath of life into humans and animals. Elsewhere in the Bible, when God takes back the breath, life disappears: ‘When you take away their breath they die and return to the dust’ (Ps. 104:29).

In the Books of the Prophets, it is the Spirit who reveals how God’s messengers are to proclaim the call for justice among the people: ‘Here is my servant whom I will uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations’ (Is.42:1). Modern-day ecological prophets are speaking under the guidance of the same Spirit when they urge us to show justice, not only to human beings, but also to the other species with whom we share the earth.

When the people of Israel were spiritually dead because of their sinfulness, the Spirit brought them to life again, as the famous passage from the prophet Ezekiel so eloquently proclaims: ‘Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you and will cause flesh to come upon you and cover you with skin and put breath in you and you shall live and you shall know that I am the Lord’ (Ezek 37:5).

The Wisdom Books speak of the Spirit as filling the universe: ‘For your immortal spirit is in all things’ (Wis. 12:1). It is the Spirit, that reveals the intrinsic worth of all life and gives us the wisdom to appreciate the beauty of trees, insects, birds and all created things. The Psalms tell us that it is the Spirit that breathes life into the universe and all its creatures: ‘When you send forth your Spirit they are created and you renew the face of the earth’ (Ps. 104:30).

In the New Testament, the action of the Spirit which reveals God and gives life, bursts into a new reality in the person of Jesus. His birth is spoken of as revealing a new creation: ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you’ (Lk. 1:35).

Jesus begins his ministry in the power of the Spirit: ‘The Spirit of the

Thinking of the Spirit as
‘Trainer’ could call us
today to the discipline and
action needed to take on
responsibility to undo the
harm we are doing to the
environment.

Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor and to give new life to all those in need’ (Lk.4:18). His last words on the Cross were: ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’ (Lk.23:46). That Spirit would be poured out on his disciples after his death.
In the Gospel of John, the Spirit is called the Paraclete, a word that means someone-who-is-called-alongside. It is often translated as Advocate, i.e. someone who trots alongside one when one is called
before courts, as the followers of Jesus often were. But it can also mean something like a trainer.
Athletes often have their
personal trainers who get them fit for a race by a strict regime of dieting and running. Thinking of the Spirit as ‘Trainer’ could call us today to the discipline and action needed to take on responsibility to undo the harm we are doing to the environment.
As Pope John Paul said: ‘An education in ecological responsibility is urgent: responsibility for oneself, for others and for the earth. This education cannot be rooted in mere sentiment, or empty wishes… A true education in responsibility entails a genuine conversion in ways of thought and behaviour.’
The book of the New Testament called the Acts of the Apostles has often been called the ‘Gospel of the Spirit’. It charts the action of the
Spirit in guiding the early Christians every step of the journey they took to spread the faith around the known world of their time. The most famous of them all, St. Paul, speaks of the way in which the Spirit ‘helps us in our weakness’, saying that ‘we do not know how to pray as we ought’, but that the Spirit intercedes for us ‘with sighs too deep for words’ (Rom.8:26). Let us then pray to God that the Spirit will give us the wisdom to appreciate this beautiful world of ours and do what we need at this present time to preserve it. C7
The Psalms tell us that it is the Spirit that breathes life
into the universe and all its creatures.
32 ivww.rnessengerie 33

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