Today was a very special Alpha. Remember in the 80's when sitcoms always had a "very special" episode? Like, "Tune in this week for a very special Family Ties, when Alex does drugs and cries about it". Wasn't that just awful?
Anyways, today was not that kind of "very special". Nicky Gumbel has devoted three chapters of the Alpha course to the Holy Spirit, and they are intended to be studied over the course of a weekend. For simplicity's sake, our group decided to do it in a one day intensive.
The three topics covered are: Who is the Holy Spirit? What does the Holy Spirit do? and How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit?
Nicky starts by explaining that we tend to get very comfortable with God the Father and God the Son, but God the Holy Spirit sort of remains this great mystery. He argues that it shouldn't remain a mystery because it is such a powerful force. Well, 'force' is not his word. He calls the Holy Spirit a 'person', but I have to admit that I have trouble with that. Jesus was a person because he had a physical human form. But the Holy Spirit never took that form. Yes, I understand the idea of humanizing or personifying the Holy Spirit with "person" characteristics, but I just couldn't buy into the idea that the Holy Spirit is a person. It also doesn't make sense with the things we started to learn about it. For example, the Holy Spirit does stuff, which a person can do. But then you can get filled with the Holy Spirit, not something a person can do.
I find the concept of defining the Holy Spirit to be very cumbersome and confusing, but when we went on to discuss having the Holy Spirit in our lives, I felt much more comfortable. I guess for me, the old "wind" analogy is still best. It says that the Holy Spirit is like wind - you can't see it, but you can see and feel its effects. I believe this. I can't see the Holy Spirit, and I completely proved today that I can't define it, but I can see its effects in my life and in the lives of others.
Our leaders did a great presentation today. We were joined for the day by our clergy, Dad and Mary. They took the Holy Communion service, and stretched it over the whole day, so that the Alpha tapes and the discussions were woven into the service. We'd do a little service, say a prayer, watch a tape, and discuss. Before the lunch break, I lead the group in singing "Spirit of Gentleness". Olivia chose the song, and it fit in so well with all the things we'd talked about. (See, that's an effect of the Holy Spirit - like the wind, He is!) I had volunteered last week to bring my guitar some time, and I was really happy to do it. It's kind of like a warm-up for tomorrow morning.
By the way, the community meal is so important in Alpha. I used to laugh when my Mom would talk about the food at Alpha, but that time of sharing your day and just getting to know each other is just crucial for building trust. And you really see the effects in the discussions. We all feel very free to share our ideas, even when you may be disagreeing with someone else. When we got to the part of the communion service where we share the Peace, it was all hugs and closeness. You could tell we all enjoy being together. It's great to share this journey with such great people.
After lunch, we did the final video, which had some really interesting stuff in it. Nicky did a section on finding different postures for worship, including lifting your hands. This is something I've only really started in the last few years. I was raised to kneel when praying, and always clasp your hands. Any other time, your hands are either at your sides or holding a book. But when I started to open my hands and lift my arms, I found a great freeing feeling in my worship time. I felt like, if God wanted to come into me, I was open to receive him.
The really interesting part of Nicky's talk was on speaking in tongues. As most people know by now, I had a powerful and somewhat scary experience of witnessing speaking in tongues this summer. The person leading the tongue-talk was aggressive, and the whole experience was really upsetting for me. But Nicky told this great story about a woman who was praying over someone. They woman got stuck for words, so she took a deep breath and started again. When she started again, she started speaking Russian, which she didn't speak, but the person she was praying over did! See, to me, that's amazing and full of God. Nicky gave lots of information on the historical side of speaking in tongues, and then gave "tips" ( I don't know if that's quite the right word) on how to speak in tongues yourself. I have to admit, when it comes to myself, I'm really not open to this. Maybe it's because I didn't grow up with it, or maybe it's because I was so freaked out my my experience this summer, but I really don't get it. I'm sure if God wants me to do it, it will happen. But I can't say I'm going to ask for the experience.
We then completed the communion service. It was quiet and full. At the end, I again lead the group in song, this time "Spirit of the Living God". And, again, the song summed up so much of what we'd been doing.
It was a really powerful day. I learned a lot, but my mind is still swimming with ideas. This is probably the deepest theological topic presented so far. It's a challenge, but definitely one worth investigating.