The Surprise of the Holy Spirit

How do you know when an opportunity is more than a chance to do something positive, that could be the work of the Holy Spirit? My evangelical friends often point to a pattern of behavior or experience that I might call a series of coincidences. Where I might see random chance they would see the hand of the Holy Spirit. My rational side has trouble going that far, I ask myself, “Is this really how God would get my attention?” Moreover what about all the times when chance lines up in this fashion and nothing happens? If there is no sudden “aha” moment that comes after the pattern does that mean I somehow failed to impress God I was ready?

I am a rational person but the older I get the more I understand that there is much we humans do not understand. In an odd way the more advanced we become as a society the more obvious it is that we are limited in our assessment of what is truly going on around us. I think there is an energy of the Spirit that is all around us. And things happen that I can neither explain nor control. As I age I accept what I don’t know, what I can’t know, far more readily. What I object to when others point to patterns and chance as “signs” of forthcoming Divine action is 1) how much control such a system implies and 2) how fixed these patterns are on one person, divorced from any larger context. Is it really “all about me” with God and can God really be domesticated by these “signs” in such predictable ways? I think not.

I experience the wildness, the unpredictable and the mysteriousness of God all the time and I can see how grace-filled these experiences are by how little control I have over them. Granted living a virtuous life, a life pursuing truth and justice and a life defined by compassion and love can only enhance any experience of the Divine. No one is more focused on right-action than me, working hard to make a better world. But along the way I have learned that these epiphanies of the Spirit, when something just “shows up” in my midst, is a gift and not a reward. My response to such revelations is not to pat myself on the back and say, “Look at me, I must be special to God” but rather to offer thanksgiving to a God who loved me into existence and blesses me with undeserved grace.

The other day a face and name I had not encountered in 7 years came back into my life with a request, to support a refugee living in a far-away land. The man doing the asking was a Priest, someone I had partnered with years ago. Now he sat in my office asking if I and others I might know could put our names to a document to bring a refugee to Halifax. This request was more complicated than presented, I knew it would be. In my follow up with the United Church experts I have learned more about the Group of Five Sponsorship rules. And I am praying to the Divine, asking God for guidance.

This experience was not triggered by a series of coincidences or good works or right belief, rather this encounter just came to me, a phone call followed up by a personal visit. It is all swirling in my head now and I am trying to separate out feelings of guilt and feelings of getting into something over my head from the invitation by the Spirit to do something transformative and life-giving. I may or may not accept this invitation, it may or may not prove to be feasible. But the sheer act of this invitation was a gift of the Spirit and for that I give thanks.