MINISTERIAL MUSINGS: "Matters of the Heart"
One of my hobbies is studying medicine. That sounds funny, I know, but I love to study human anatomy and physiology as a pastime. I am fascinated by the structure and function, and even the pathology, of the human body. It is not as if I have a plethora of free time, but I would rather read an article on endocrinology in JAMA than watch a sitcom on NBC. Strange? Yes, but it is also fun!
Do you know what makes the heart beat — what actually keeps it going? The heart is a muscle that has inherent rythmicity. If you removed it from the chest and kept it moist, it would continue to beat at a tempo that you could time. If we delve deeper, I am sure that there is a genetic or cellular explanation for this, but I like to think that it is the Spirit of God that animates the cardiac system, which, in turn, makes us living, breathing, praying individuals.
In 1 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul refers to the Church as the Body of Christ. Paul uses the human body as a metaphor for the ecclesia, those “called out of the world” to serve God in the service of others. The body has many interconnected, indispensable parts, as does the Church. Every segment is needed and needs to cooperate for the Church (just like the body) to be whole and healthy.
Paul maintains that Jesus Christ is the head of the Church. Paul does not say who or what is the heart. I wonder how he would answer that question. I think it is the Holy Spirit that not only enlivens us, but gives us a sense of purpose. The Holy Spirit gives us life. The Holy Spirit is the heart of who we are.
Most mainline churches do not talk about the Holy Spirit that much. I recall a seminary professor of theology who told us that a visiting scholar from China mentioned (after visiting a sundry of Christian congregations) that American churches do not talk about the Holy Spirit a lot. They talk about God, sure, and Jesus…but the Holy Spirit? Not so much.
That may be because the Holy Spirit is a more elusive character. God is seen as having a human-like form at times (think of Yahweh walking in the Garden of Eden and speaking from the cloud on Mount Sinai), as does Jesus, but the Holy Spirit? Not so much.
Actually, in the Hebrew Bible as well as the New Testament, the Holy Spirit takes one of five forms: a dove, oil, fire, wind (or a breath), and water. Our Pentecostal sisters and brothers have made the Christian Church more cognizant of the role of the Holy Spirit in Christian theology.
I want to add a sixth image, if I may be so bold. To go back to what I was saying a moment ago, the Spirit is the heart. It is the organ that continues to pump life into the body of Christ. It is the Spirit that gives us a clear sense of mission and purpose. The Church succeeds not due to our own endeavors, but rather because the lifeblood of our gracious God courses through our veins. There is an inherent rythmicity that sets our tempo. It comes from the Holy Spirit and it offers us life — as individuals and as a faith communities.
May we continue to be involved in God's work so that the Holy Spirit may always beat in our chests — and may she beat strong!
John Tamilio III is the Senior Pastor of Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio. A musician and a nationally published poet, JT3 lives in Lakewood with his wife and their three children.