Despite their differences in emphasis and style, it’s interesting to note the close relationship that exists between contemplatives and charismatics. Those within these traditions are, however, not usually the ones to note the similarities. Focusing more on the differences, contemplatives sometimes think charismatics are too emotional and theologically conservative while charismatics view contemplatives as too theologically liberal and too New Age. It is often others, therefore, who notice the great similarity – the fact that people in both these traditions pay particular attention to the Spirit of God.
I would have to say that I never took the Spirit of God seriously until I started on a contemplative journey. I knew about the Spirit as the third member of the Trinity, but I didn’t know the Spirit. But as I began to dare to open myself in stillness and faith as an act of prayer I encountered the indwelling Spirit of God. I began to know this mysterious presence of the divine that is part of the reality of every creature made in the image of God, and began to learn how our spirits can interact with the Spirit. And consequently I began to become attentive to the critical role that the Spirit plays not just in such seemingly “spiritual” things as the knowing of the presence of God but in all of life.
Anything worthy of being called Christian spirituality must be grounded in the Spirit of God because God’s Spirit is the reference point for all Christian spiritual experience and life. But God’s Spirit is not a private possession and Christian spirituality is not merely an experience of Spirit. It’s a response to Spirit – a response of openness and trust that moves from encounter to knowing and from knowing to flowing – the flowing of the Spirit in and through my being and out into the world.
In their book, The Faith of the Church, James A. Pike and W. Norman Pittenger argue that the Church has always insisted that the Holy Spirit is not concerned with Church and religion alone. The Spirit is the Giver and Sustainer of Life – of all life. The Holy Spirit was active in the creation of the world, and is now active in the natural order. Pike and Pittenger go on: “What the biologist, for instance, regards as the drive of nature to conform to some pattern, the Christian theologian regards as the working of the Holy Spirit. It is He who makes the acorn grow up to an oak, the child to manhood, the man to fulfill his potentialities and possibilities … He is the Spirit in and behind life, the Spirit who makes things grow.”
This understanding echoes St. Ambrose who taught that all truth, by whoever spoken, is spoken by the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit of God that is present when scientists unlock the secrets of the genome. It is the same Spirit that is present when legislators enact just laws, a soldier gives his life for his comrades, the artist expresses beauty, or a business woman find creative ways to not only earn a living but to advance the welfare of her employees and the community. Equally, it is the Spirit that is at work when teachers are inspired to not just communicate information to the young people in their classrooms but to help them become good citizens and whole, responsible members of society. Similarly, it is the Spirit of God that is behind every act of healing and every step of human growth or development.
Scriptures teach that God is in Christ, making all things new in the world. The Spirit is the agent of that transformational work. And when our spirit is attentive to God’s Spirit, we can be aligned with God’s transformational work – in us, in others and in the world. This is the great and ultimate purpose behind spiritual awakening. It is not simply for our own enlightenment. It’s so we can notice and then participate in God’s great reconstructive agenda in and for the world.