The Spirit, the Verb – Br. David Allen
How many of us are confident that we can pray as we ought? Some people may think that they can, but St. Paul, writing to the Christians at Rome in the 1st Century says that we cannot pray as we ought, but that the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness, and “intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Rom. 8:26) As I think and pray about it I tend to agree that when it comes right down to it Paul is right. We tend to follow patterns from the Prayer Book, or from childhood, or from some other source. Most of us don’t really pray as we ought.
Paul goes on to say that “God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (v.27) Throughout the writings of Paul those who had become believers in Christ are referred to as saints (with a small “s”). We might keep this in mind as we draw nearer to All Saints’ Day next week, and consider how we can pray more as we ought to.
Each weekday morning as the Brothers of the SSJE Community gather here at the Monastery and at Emery House for the meeting that we call “Rounds” we sing a hymn to the Holy Spirit asking for inspiration and guidance at the beginning of the meeting, and pray a collect at the end asking for the Holy Spirit, along with the Father and the Son, to guide our day. There are days when in spite of those prayers we find ourselves caught up in the daily business that each of us is involved in for this Monastery and at Emery House. I can’t speak for you, but I can imagine that it can be much the same for each of you.
This past week I was at Emery House for a week of personal retreat. One of the books that I took with me to read was a paperback entitled THE SHACK. This is a book that I have seen on the shelves of many different book stores during the past two or three years, but had resisted for some reason. Finally I decided that I ought to read it. It is a novel, but I found that it deals with some deeply spiritual matters. I found it both fascinating and a little disturbing in that it undertakes to portray the Holy Trinity as a middle aged African American woman, an Eastern Mediterranean man, and a young Asian woman. But as I got into reading the book I found that it was a refreshing way of breaking down stereotypes and taking a good look at our relationship with the persons of the Trinity, and their relationship with each other.
In one dialogue between “Sarayu”, the character portraying the Holy Spirit and the leading character of the novel, a man called “Mack”, she describes herself in terms of being a verb. She describes verbs as being “alive and full of grace”, whereas nouns tend to be dead and reeking of rules. Mack had been speaking of responsibility and expectation. Sarayu said that those words were nouns that were full of law and fear and judgment. For that reason the word responsibility will not be found in Scripture. The verbs respond and expect are alive and dynamic. (op. cit. pp. 223-224) The dialogue continued along those lines, emphasizing the qualities of action, life, and blessing.
We can apply some of that same principle to the words that we find in the last part of today’s reading from Romans when we see the words, predestined, called, justified, and glorified. (v. 30) If we see those words as verbs that are active, and infinite in their meaning, we can better understand the actions of the Holy Spirit who intercedes for us “according to the will of God with sighs too deep for words.”
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Thanks for this good homily, Br. David.
I read THE SHACK two or three years ago, and, after the initial shock, found it to be fascinating.
The Bible often speaks of God with human qualities, as in the Psalms, with hands, feet, etc.
So for this author to assign the Trinity to humans is not so far-fetched. The author, I think, had a real understanding of the Trinity. Your homily makes me want to read the novel again.
Is the text of the prayers referenced in the sermon (Hymn to the Holy Spirit and collect) available anywhere?
Yes, the distinction again and again between nouns and verbs in relation to the Trinitarian life in which we live, is so helpful. Thank you. Linda
Thank you for your words. I will try to think about using more energetic words when I pray. You are correct in that I have used prayers learned over the years. It seems that sometimes I am only reciting. I while ask the Holy Spirit to intervene and try to use more energetic words in my prayers. God Bless You!
…more calls to action in the church always brings a past friend, 27 years old, who died very young..what if you are ill? For a long time I’ve wondered about those who can’t move. Recently, I read a poem by ‘blind’ John Milton…and helped me tremendously!
When I consider how my light is spent, E’re half my days,in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless,though my soul more bent to serve therewith my Maker and present my true account, least he returning , “doth God exact day-labour, with light deny’d?”
But patience to prevent that murmur, soon replies, God doth not need either mans’ work or his own gifts, who best bear his milde yoak, they serve him best. Thousands at his bidding speed post o’re Land and Ocean without rest
They also serve who only stand and waite!!!
Thank you for this Fr. Allen. I just needed to hear that distinction between nouns and verbs again. I have a great tendency to get stuck in nouns and loose the dynamic the hope of verbs. Thank you. Margo
Dear Br David, Thank you soooo much for your wise words. I liked especially learning about the prayers you and your brothers make before and after Rounds. Last night I finished Thich Nhat Hanh’s most recent book. In it he compares “mindfulness” to the workings of the Holy Spirit. He goes on to suggest that we should envelop our cares in this force, and that eventually they will be diminished, and we will be calm. As you say, this is a process… an action. Bless you and the brothers of SSJE, elizabeth (Chicago)