… and suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability. (Acts 2: 2 – 4 – NRSVA)
It’s a ‘thing’ to punctuate language with the word ‘like’ these days!… ‘and he was, like, I told her not to do that…’ ‘we were all, like, going up the road together when…’
So were you all actually going up the road together, or was it not quite that… just a bit ‘like’ it!
Although I end up falling into the same trap, this way of using the word ‘like’ is one of my least favourite ‘punctuations’, because, to me (except to describe something, or someone I’m fond of) it’s reserved for a way of describing something that is similar to something, but not the same, a word to use when we need to use one thing, or idea to describe something else.
And that’s what the writer, Luke, is doing. He’s using an image that his friend Theophilus (and now you and I) will be able to ‘picture’ to describe something for which there really aren’t appropriate words. The sound was ‘like the rush of a violent wind’… An experience for which there simply aren’t adequate words has to be described, as best as possible, by likening it to something similar… but not the same, but which will help us understand. When language runs out, or fails us, or isn’t adequate for the enormity of what we are describing, we use ‘similes’… we describe one thing as being ‘like’ something else.
And so it is with God’s Holy Spirit; an experience, a feeling for which there simply aren’t quite the right words. There simply isn’t adequate language to describe the Holy Spirit, so we have to liken it to things and ideas that we can relate to in some way.
I’ve collected together some ideas about what the Holy Spirit is ‘like’ for you to peruse. Perhaps one or more of them will describe your experience of God’s Holy Spirit. Some might help you to recognise that the Holy Spirit has been at work in your life… or to recognise her work in the future.
So, here goes….
The Holy Spirit is like a breath that blows away the dust and makes everything clean.
The Holy Spirit is like refreshing cool water to a parched throat.
The Holy Spirit is like a cleansing bush fire that burns away the thick undergrowth so that something new can rise out of the ashes.
The Holy Spirit is like a potter, who starts with an odd-shaped lump and moulds and shapes it into something beautiful.
The Holy Spirit is like a renovator, who uses what’s already there and strengthens, refreshes and revitalises it.
The Holy Spirit is like an encouraging and emboldening power that burns inside me when I need wisdom and integrity to face a task, or the day.
The Holy Spirit is like a loving partner whispering reassurances of love and support.
The Holy Spirit is like a parent guiding and helping a confused child.
The Holy Spirit is like a tour guide who points us in the right direction to see things that we would otherwise have missed.
The Holy Spirit is that gentle tap on the shoulder that makes us realise, “That’s me who needs a new beginning and new direction”.
The Holy Spirit is like a gentle power working inside me.
The Holy Spirit is that fierce shaking that wakes us up; reminds us that there is more to life than earning money, relentlessly pushing ourselves until we are tired, stressed and depressed.
The Holy Spirit is like the touch of intangible joy.
The Holy Spirit is like the embrace of a parent’s arms.
The Holy Spirit is like the touch of a feather.
The Holy Spirit is like water bubbling up inside… sometimes to overflowing.
The Holy Spirit is like the comfortable sofa which eases my tired bones.
The Holy Spirit is like my voice in prayer when I can’t find the words to pray.
The Holy Spirit is like the wind that disturbs me into action when I have become complacent.
The Holy Spirit is like a dove of peace that comes and rests upon me.
Rev Janine Atkinson is Minister of the SPACE Group of Churches in West Yorkshire