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A Name for the Holy Spirit

May 25, 2014 click on left end of black bar to play-pause

May 25, 2014
Gospel: John: 14: 15-21
Father George Smiga

Whenever we try to describe God, our words fall short. This is because God cannot be seen or heard or touched. So we end up using a variety of terms that in some part reveal who God is. This is especially true of the Holy Spirit. In today’s gospel Jesus tells his disciples that the spirit is an “advocate.” But this word in Greek, could just as easily be translated as a “comforter,” “counselor,” “companion,” or the “Paraclete.” The Holy Spirit is notoriously difficult to name.

This became particularly clear recently, when a group of European scholars attempted to translate the New Testament into the Karre language. Karre is the language of a small, isolated tribe in equatorial Africa. When the scholars came to today’s passage from the gospel of John, they realized that in the Karre language there was no word for “advocate,” “comforter,” or “counselor.” So they came up with a unique solution.

They noticed that in the life of the tribe, it was common that when a group would go out for a journey in the bush, each member of the group would carry a bundle of provisions on his head. Everyone would have a bundle to carry except for one person who carried nothing. The scholars originally thought that this person was the boss, and that was why he carried nothing. But they found out that they were wrong. The person who carried nothing had a particular job. If any member of the group fell down with exhaustion, this person would fall down next to him, and take up their burden and carry it. In the Karre language this person was called “the one who falls down beside us.”

The scholars decided to use this word to name the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the “one who falls down beside us,” to take up the burdens we no longer can carry on our own.

What a beautiful image to describe the spirit of God in our lives! When we have to face trouble in our marriage or with our children and we try over and over again to make things better without success, the burden of that pain can press us down, and rob us of hope. Then we need to believe that the Holy Spirit will fall down beside us, and lift up our burdens so that we can hope again.

When a friend rejects us, or when somebody we love walks out of our life, that loss and rejection can paralyze us and push us to despair. Then we need to believe that the spirit of God will come to us, so that we can believe that life can begin again.

When our health fails, and the pain and fear of illness press us down, we need to trust that God will come to us, and lift us up so that we can continue.

Jesus tells his disciples that the gift of the spirit will be given to them. That is why he tells them that he will not leave them orphaned. Although he will no longer be physically present to them, the spirit will be sent to them, to fall down beside them in their exhaustion, in their brokenness, and to lift them up.

Who then is the Holy Spirit? The Spirit is God’s presence walking with us on the journey of life. The Spirit is God’s strength always waiting to pick up our burdens when our strength is gone.

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