Reflections by Jerry Webber

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Slow Work of the Spirit of Truth

"When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me." (John 15:26)

Jesus described the role of the Holy Spirit as an Advocate, as One Who Speaks on Behalf of another. In John 15, Jesus used the phrase "Spirit of truth" to describe the Spirit's work. Sacred Space 2018, the prayerbook of the Irish Jesuits, synthesizes the idea this way: "The work of the Holy Spirit affirms the life and love of Jesus, giving witness to what is true."

I wrestle with this notion of "truth" and what is "true." Too many, in my experience, claim the truth -- usually their own experience or opinion or way of seeing the world -- as a single concept or idea which is infallible and to which all persons must gravitate. Of course, my notion of truth is correct and yours is faulty, even though you feel YOUR notion of truth is correct and mine is faulty. And so we go to war either as peoples or groups or isolated persons to defend what we believe truth is.

I want to play Pilate for just a moment, the Roman governor who had a bound Jesus before him and who was under compulsion by Jewish leaders to render some kind of verdict about Jesus.

As Pilate tried to discern Jesus' identity, as well as his guilt or innocence, Jesus said to him, "The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. (Jn. 18:37-38)

As Frederick Buechner imagines the story, he says Jesus did not answer Pilate, at least not with words. He just stands there. He stands. And he stands there.

"What is truth?" Buechner implies Jesus answers by simply standing before Pilate. He embodies truth.

Buechner, though, merely hit upon what seems most obvious. I find it possible to affirm that Jesus IS the truth -- which I have for decades -- while still not living the experience of Jesus as the truth -- which has been my intentional pursuit for only a few years.

The more difficult question, to me anyway, is, "How does the Spirit of truth animate my life? How is the Spirit affirming the life and love of Jesus WITHIN ME, giving witness through my lived-experience to what is true?"

With Pilate, I ask, "What is truth?"

As the Spirit of truth, God seems most interested in accompanying each of us in the ongoing quest to live the truth in our own context . . . to have what Fr Thomas Keating has often referred to as a "lived experience of Jesus." That means this Divine Spirit aids each person in their openness to and pursuit of what is most true . . . about God, within the self, inside others, and about the created world.

For example, what is most true about me? What is my deepest and most authentic truth? Like you and like every other human on the planet, I am given to believing lies about myself, lies convincing me both of my abundant goodness AND of my overwhelming badness. I am prone to varnishing the truth of my self in convenient and self-serving ways, creating illusions that I want to believe about my self or that I want you to believe about me. None of us are particularly adept, at least for a great long time, at recognizing these illusions about ourselves.

Further, we can live with these illusions for such a long time that they really do become woven into the fabric of our lives, causing the lies to be ingrained tightly into our own self-image. After awhile we cannot see the truth from the falsehood. We see that happen to others -- even in public figures -- far more quickly than we recognize this bent toward illusion in ourselves.

If I played out the example even more, I could ask, "What is the truth about God I have not let myself believe . . .perhaps because it lies outside what I was brought up to believe about God?"

Or, "What is true about this other person that I have not yet seen and acknowledged . . . perhaps because to see that truth about him/her would mean I'd have to forgive them?"

Or, "What is the truth of the created world I have resisted . . . perhaps because it would make my personal lifestyle uncomfortable?"

The Spirit of truth, according to my vision, is the Spirit's work of nudging me slowly, almost imperceptibly, to see truthfully . . . God, self, others, and the world. On the other hand, the Spirit of truth seems NOT to move each of us toward a common belief system or ideology, as if being a capitalist is true and being a socialist is false. Rather, the Spirit of truth is gradually shaping my life so that the life and love of Jesus -- who IS the Truth -- becomes my own experience in the world.

Spirituality, after all, is about seeing first and foremost, seeing what is true, seeing what is real, letting go of illusions and the haze of what I want to see in favor of seeing what is actually present. And this seems to be the work that the Spirit of truth is interested in, yet which is hardly ever talked about in Christian circles. The Spirit invests sacred energy in this animating work of seeing, making connections, noticing what is always and everywhere true.

Perhaps you would wrestle with your own answers . . .

"What is truth?"

"What is the animating work of the Spirit of truth in my own life?"

No comments: