1 Epiphany: Baptism of Our Lord

Gen. 1:1-5 • Ps. 29 • Acts 19:1-7 • Mark 1:4-11

The Holy Spirit has made a prodigious comeback in recent years. We live by the Spirit, discern by the Spirit, are led by the Spirit, and even, it seems, disagree by the Spirit. For the Spirit is said to be speaking on both sides of any contested issue. Part of the problem is the very fact of talking about spirit or wind. It is quite hard to pin down, and remained so, as far as definitions are concerned, for a considerable period of time. The Council of Nicaea simply said, “We believe in the Holy Spirit. ”

The Genesis story tells us that the wind is from God. The wind is not created by God, for the wind is in the beginning. Thus the wind is God in creative action. God is not just wind but word. Together wind and word call out to make light, to order the light as distinct from darkness, to give evenings and mornings to the whole of the created world. Perfect freedom and perfect order are the hallmarks of this action. The wind is free and the word is precise. Here we have the suggestion that we who live by the Spirit may drift like vagabonds, packing a providential map as our only game plan. Where would you go if the Spirit pushed you? On the other hand, the Spirit is not antithetical to purposeful word. The word is effectual and firm.

Speaking the truth about the Spirit of God will always require a delicate balance between what is fluid and what is firm, what is charismatic and what is definite and fixed. Do not quench the Spirit! Test every spirit!

St. Paul finds the Ephesians entirely bereft of Spirit. They had become believers but missed out on the secret baptism of the Spirit. They say, “We have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit. ” This is an unacceptable deprivation, for the Christian life is a life in the Spirit of Christ. So Paul baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus, and then, by the laying on of hands, the Holy Spirit came upon them. They spoke in tongues and prophesied. Enthusiasm is a dangerous thing, to be sure, but not to have any is worse still. (Oh, you secret charismatics. You keep showing yourselves, telling me in shy whispers that the Spirit gurgles in you with a foreign tongue. Rave on, oh glossolalia.)

In St. Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism there is a kind of private revelation, a divine voice that John may not hear. Ascending from the waters, Jesus sees the heavens rent and the Spirit come like a bird to rest upon him. He hears a voice addressed to himself alone. “You are my Son, the beloved, in whom I am forever pleased. ” But since Christ is never separated from his body, it is a word to all who are baptized in his name.

The Spirit moves us, but not without purposeful word. The Spirit unties the tongue for eloquence and secret speech. The Spirit makes us sons and daughters of God, all of which may be affirmed without the folly and immaturity of blaming the Spirit for personal opinions and shoddy plans. As for being led by the Spirit into all truth: take the long view, think of the Grand Canyon, say the words “2. 9 billion years ago” and be a bit doubtful that you are always on the winning side.

Look It Up
Read Mark 1:7,8. Get two baptisms for the price of one dipping: paenitentia in remissionem peccatorum et Spiritus Santus (repentance for the remission of sins and the Holy Spirit).

Think About It
“The mind is so unburdened by the weights of sin and passion as to be restored (by Spirit) to its natural buoyancy” (Cassian, Conference IX). Float.