The Spirit Of God Like A Fire Is Burning: Mystical Christianity
“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you
all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”–Gospel Of John-
Sent by the Father to be taught all things... To have all things Jesus said brought to remembrance. Does
not a trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit reflect how the will of the Father is that all of humankind is to be taught as
Jesus was mortally taught, to know what Jesus mortally knew, to see things as Jesus mortally saw them, and to act as Jesus
“Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said
unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether
there be any Holy Ghost.
And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism.
Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should
believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name
of the Lord Jesus.
And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and
I was not raised in a church where the Holy Spirit was defined by momentary flashes of tongues and prophecy
although I am aware that many congregations enjoy such an experience frequently if not regularly. Furthermore, it is my perception
that in those charismatic congregations we are more apt to find more of that emotionally vital and mystical experience of
Christ that is needful to move Christian practice away from moralizing and into the more important basis of hope and faith.
Charismatic churches perhaps practice a more outward manifestation of spiritual experience but they by no
means possess a monopoly of the Spirit. During the holidays, I accepted an invitation from my son to attend a candle lighting
service at the City Bible Church in Portland, Oregon. I was struck by the vitality and power of that congregation which has
experienced spectacular growth in the Portland community over the past 15 years.
City Bible Church is one of those healthy evangelizing and congregation-sustaining churches that impress
me as doing a marvelous work in our day and age along the lines I discussed in at least three previous articles: MYSTERIUM
TREMENDUM OR SOCIAL CLUB?, my book review of “RE-PITCHING THE TENT" by Richard Giles, and CHRISTIAN EVANGELISM AS AN
INFLUENCE FOR GOOD.
Having introduced a discussion of the Holy Spirit in this way, I’d like then to attempt to express
my own personal perceptions of the workings of the spirit and why I believe that Christianity without the mystical becomes
something that emphasizes form over substance and lacks the power to evoke a desire for a more intimate relationship with
God through the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit and Me
I grew up in a church that taught that the Gift of the Holy Ghost is a Gift from God of constancy for my
lifetime. The Gift was part of my baptismal rite when, after having been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and The
Holy Ghost, I was placed in a chair and hands were placed on my head. Someone speaking for the group commanded, “Receive
ye the Holy Ghost.”
I was then taught that the Holy Spirit of God would be my constant companion throughout my life. Although
exhorted to live a righteous life, I was never admonished that the Holy Spirit would attend me only so long as I was worthy
On the contrary, I was given to understand that unworthiness or unrighteous behavior would not drive the
Holy Spirit out of my life but might very well cause me to lose part of all of my ability to discern that Spirit. At the time
of my baptism I did not immediately sense that something holy and spiritual had settled within me.
I did not immediately break out speaking in tongues and prophesying. Rather, I took my impressions of the
baptismal rite and my thoughts home with me where they would be repeatedly examined for years to come and would ultimately
inform my understanding of my relationship to God.
“But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be
given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh
in you.”-Gospel of Mathew-
As a young husband and father I was taught to give Husband’s and Father’s blessings to my family.
With the birth of each child and when the time for the naming ritual arrived, in the presence of my congregation I would take
the child in my arms to for a name and blessing.
I was taught not to charge into the blessing with my own wish list of hopes and fears for my child’s
future, trying somehow with God’s power to hex my child against adversity, illness, disappointment and failure. Rather,
as the verse above teaches, I was taught to wait on the spirit and bless the child with the words that came into my heart
as I waited on the spirit. Sometimes strange or unexpected phrases escaped my lips, but at no point did I have any apprehension
about the things I was saying.
From time to time I was asked to give my wife a Husband’s Blessing in a formal ritual of placing my
hands on her head and proceeding again as described in the scripture above. And at the beginning of each school year I would
do the same with each of our five children, giving a Father’s Blessing, waiting for spiritual promptings before I could
My only regret was that as I belonged to a church with an extremely strong patriarchal tradition, I had
no opportunity to receive a formal blessing from under the hands of my wife and children. Patriarchy had part to do with my
leaving that church years ago and it remains in my mind that spiritual promptings in families truly move in all directions
– between fathers and mothers as well as from parents to children and from children to their parents. What might I have
missed by not empowering my wife and my children (when they were old enough to understand) to speak to me their own words
as prompted by the spirit in a formal setting.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the
poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” –Gospel of Luke-
The first time I accepted a call from the church to labor in ministry, I did so only after waiting for a
spiritual prompting that God also was calling me and acceptance would be a wise action on my own path.
“And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.” –Gospel of Mark-
Subsequent promptings were not limited to a venue of calls to religious activity but became a desired outcome
around which most of my life’s decisions were reached.
“And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that
he should not go up to Jerusalem.” –Acts-
In my family I have admitted that, despite always trying to live by spiritual promptings, in 1979 when I
moved my family from Texas to Oregon I did so contrary to a prompting not to do it. However, the subsequent two years of economic
agony were eventually overcome and I came to understand that in our lives God is not vindictive. I was not spiritually abandoned
during that agony – rather, blessed from the get-go while stuck in the mire into which I had deliberately stepped.
“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for
as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth
the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of
God.”-Epistle to the Romans-
I heard a story once of a church leader suddenly confronted by a life and death emergency into which he
had unwillingly been thrust onto center stage. Because of his ministerial calling, he was asked by those around him to lay
hands on an accident victim to save a life. Because of his leadership role, it was thought that if anyone could save the victim’s
life, he could.
This particular person found himself terrified of the responsibility and immediately removed himself to
a private place where he pleaded with God not to let his personal failings and flaws stand in the way of preserving someone
else’s life. In speaking of the incident later, he declared that he had suddenly lost his perspective and no longer
trusted God; somehow imposing his own sense of unworthiness between himself and the victim whose faith in God’s power
rested on a mistaken belief that God worked only through righteous and formally ordained servants.
The lesson of this experience is not about faith, but about living in a context of being aware of God through
the spirit. If you have ever participated in prayer for the sick or an anointing of the sick as described by James, you’ll
understand that men and women do not heal the sick. The healing of the sick in the household of faith is an interaction between
God and those who are ill.
To give comfort to and to pray with and on behalf of the sick is a marvelous work and experience –
one in which we should never be so foolish as to assume that God absolutely needs us to work a miracle. Rather, when we join
ourselves to the sick in love and prayer, the gift of healing is given not only to the ill person, but to each participant.
“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.
For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom;
to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits;
to another divers kinds of tongues;
to another the interpretation of tongues:
But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. For as
the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.”
–Epistle to Corinthians-
Specific spiritual experiences do not have as their primary purpose a function of promoting faith. In the
church of my childhood I was taught that any spiritual experience was a “faith promoting experience” intended
by God as personal verification to me that I belonged to the only true church on the face of the earth.
However, over my lifetime I came to understand that epiphany, illumination and flashes of inspiration lead
to a greater sense and awareness of prompting and guidance – not in the manner of a human puppet who assumes that he
only moves because God pulls the strings – but in a manner of coming to know and understand that the kingdom of God
The kingdom of God within is a beautiful and fully illuminated place where there is constant opportunity
to know one’s self more completely, a constant opportunity for enhanced personal insight and wisdom, and most importantly,
the on-going reality of God.
The kingdom of God within each of us is a place where we can see clearly through the window pane, because,
as Watts expressed it, we are not too busy painting on the clear crystal pictures of what we think or what other mortals have
told us is inside.
Does not the Spirit suggest that it shall come to pass in the last days, (saith God), that I will pour out
of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy about themselves and their lives, and your young
men and young women shall see visions with understanding, and your old men and old women shall dream dreams that reflect what
they have done?
If we think we need someone else’s approval or assent to live spiritually in this manner, we deceive
ourselves. Within us we are led to God; led to discover union with the God of love and compassion.
That is God’s Gift of the Holy Spirit to humankind.