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Getting Real With the Spirit

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Although I resisted for as long as possible – mostly because of my stubbornness, not wisdom – my wife recently convinced me to join Instagram. Without denying the benefit and pleasure of engaging in a type of personalized photojournalism, I cannot deny how I have been initiated into a world that (neurotically) seeks substance in the Instagramification of life.

Through this phenomenon, a generation is learning to attribute significance and meaning to their ordinariness. This is how, in other words, we are learning to make it real. In a sense, for many, the events of ordinary life are not fully real until reified in sepia and raised into the great cloud for all the world (that is, our “friends”) to witness and, consequently, to find appealing. In this act, significance and meaning are transferred away from the event of the life itself and on to the disembodied image.

The Instagram-ification of our lives reveals the deeper longing we all have to infuse meaning into that which we know is decaying. At some level, we all intuit, and always have, the need for our world to become more than what it is in order to become real.

The great irony of the Instagram version of the sacred desire to infuse meaning into ordinary life is that it actually makes it less real. It turns life into a thing to consume, rather than a gift to enjoy.

Many of us evangelical church-folk, moreover, have little to offer in response because we suffer from the same problem: we are stuck between pessimistic realism (i.e. what you see is what you get, so deal with it) and disembodied dreaming (the meaningful stuff is unrelated to this stuff). And we suffer from the same problem, I suggest, because we lack the imagination for how the Holy Spirit transforms our daily, ordinary existence.

Beyond the polarity between what is and what ought to be, however, is Pentecost – where the Holy Spirit eschatologizes the present. At Pentecost the Spirit makes real in the present the world to come. That is, the Spirit makes real and possible in the present the truest truth about where and how God is summing-up the world in Christ.

In Acts 2, the great event propelling those first disciples into mission unfolds, and it all begins with Peter needing to explain that everyone is not, in fact, drunk. “Rather, you are witnessing,” he explains, “the end of the world and the beginning of another. The world to come is dynamically breaking into the present age through the manifestation of the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit’s manifestation is the inauguration of the Last Days.”

In other words, the Holy Spirit manifests – makes real to us – the gift of God’s life. The Spirit does this not by turning what is “real” into a filtered image of itself but rather by transforming the ordinary “what-is” into the gift it was always intended to be but could not be outside of Christ.

This means when we skip over Pentecost to the function (or non-function) of charismatic gifts in isolated individual experiences or settle only for commemorating Easter (as something that happened), we miss the most significant piece of both: the manifestation of the Holy Spirit makes real to us the gift of God’s life in the materials of our ordinary life by transforming it into what it truly is in Christ.

We witness this every Sunday in the Eucharist, which draws us each week not only into Easter but also into Pentecost. The details of what and how it happens are debated for sure, but the only way the bread and wine (it should not be overlooked how frequently food is “instagramed”) make real to us the presence of Christ is by the Holy Spirit.

Because of what occurs at the Table, every day becomes Pentecost just like every day is Resurrection (to borrow from Alexander Schmemann). Every day is participation in the Spirit’s manifestation of God’s presence and power – making real to us the very life of God. Our time, jobs, relationships, meals, joys and hurts all become infused with true meaning – they become gifts of grace and life to us – when we surrender to what the Spirit wants to do and thereby participate in the reality that Christ fulfilled.

This also means exclusive focus on the invisibility (which is not the same as imperceptibility)of the Spirit’s work might obfuscate the tangible-ness of the Spirit’s work – the extent to which my real self and real life are the site where the Spirit manifests the fullness of Christ. “Spiritual reality” is another reality only in the sense that the Spirit makes available what is most real.

Life in the Spirit, as it were, is not abstracted from the grit of the mundane and ordinary. The Spirit is life itself – because Christ is life itself – and the Spirit makes possible entrance into the fullness of Christ – who is our life – by taking the raw material of our existence – and transforming it into what it is meant to be – into the great gift that God offers.

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