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... also the Holy Ghost, The Comforter

Scripture seems to assert that the Spirit is fire - 'flame of incandescent terror' if T. S. Eliot is to be believed. Moses and his peoples encountered God as fire, in the bush, and in the fiery pillar. At Pentecost the Apostles were anointed with tongues, visible as well as audible.

Christian spirituality has much in this vein, of course - writing of his experience of conversion, John Wesley famously spoke of his heart being 'strangely warmed'.

In an age of exalted empiricism, where 'my truth' possesses an unassailable worth, I find myself emboldened to say that right now my heart is 'strangely cooled'. This is not the kind of Pentecostal fervour Vicars are meant to display, not least when Archbishops are in town. But I find comfort - cold comfort, perhaps - in Bonhoeffer, who calls for contemporary Christians to live etsi Deus non daretur. What he means by that is that we do not treat God as some kind of supernatural Pfizer jab - we need, simply, to be more grown up than that, in faith, and in proclamation. We live in a time, as did Dietrich Bonhoeffer, where 'only a suffering God will do'.

Heavy stuff. But if you ever sang 'Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me', and meant it, then you will get what I am saying. In that simple song we ask God to give the Spirit that we might share in His suffering work. 'Melt me, mould me, fill me, use me'. A sweet tune hides a daring request. And when the prayer is answered, the God of Surprises does her work.

The best book ever written in English on the Holy Spirit, Bishop John V. Taylor's 'The Go-Between God' gets it spot on:

'The Spirit does not give himself where our encounters are glib, masked exchanges of second-hand thoughts. Our defences must be down, broken either by intense joy or by despair. One way or the other we must have come to the end of ourselves'.

We tend to use the word comfort nowadays as a synonym for soothe. But a comforter is, literally, one who adds strength. Isn't this the Gift that is promised? Isn't this the Gift we need?

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