The Rt. Revd. Richard Chartres
Tuesday in Holy Week
Readings: 1 Corinthians 1.18-31; John 20.19-23
ONE of the most haunting lines of twentieth-century poetry comes from
a chorus in T.S. Eliot’s play The Rock:
“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”
In his letter to the Christians of Corinth, Paul explores the wisdom of
God hidden in “the foolishness of the Cross”. It is a wisdom disclosed by
the Holy Spirit, a wisdom that does not seem plausible to the kind of
thinking and calculating mind that is habitual with us.
The business of the Christian life is to “live and grow” in the Holy Spirit.
After centuries in which the Church in the West has downplayed the
work and centrality of the Holy Spirit, there is in our own time a fresh
appreciation of the role of the Spirit in bringing the Kingdom of God to
Unfortunately, the experience of the Spirit has sometimes been
associated with bizarre and unusual gifts. Paul, in his letter to the
Corinthians, warns us about confusing spiritual maturity with the
possession of extraordinary gifts like “speaking with tongues”. The gifts
of the Spirit for which we pray are the basis of living and everyday
Christian life and being enabled to see and hear the wisdom of God.
I was given a salutary lesson in the power and significance of the Spirit
in an unexpected place. I was visiting a centre for the rehabilitation of
drug addicts –- usually men who had already served prison terms.
As I approached the entrance with the Warden, I could see through the
glass doors a giant of a man. He must have been six foot six. The
Warden said, “Bish, that man has had more convictions than you’ve got.”
The little jest made me nervous, but when I got into the hall the man in
question politely asked me to sit down and talk with him.
There began one of those conversations where no one was wearing a
mask. Very often, we are so defended that our conversations are from subject to object.
On this occasion, for whatever reason, we were able to
speak heart to heart, subject to subject.
Much of the evil and distress in the world comes from treating other
people as objects: overlooking them; cutting them down to size.
Communication in the Holy Spirit is different, as we can see from the
story of the first Pentecost. The apostles were gathered in Jerusalem for
the festival with a host of pilgrims from many different countries,
speaking a variety of languages, but they all found that they could
understand what the spirit-filled friends of Jesus were saying.
Just as you do not have to understand German to appreciate Mozart —
and you do not have to have been in prison to empathise with those who
have – so, if we communicate in the Holy Spirit, it is possible to
overcome natural barriers.
We can all too easily make one another ill by our style of
communication, but on the contrary I was beginning to find the
conversation of my new acquaintance refreshing.
If I told you some of the things he told me about the circumstances of his
upbringing, you would not be at all surprised that he had acquired a drug
habit. Many of us go through life complaining about our problems, and
claiming that they are the fault of other people — usually authority
figures. This man, however, was able to say that he had problems and
that they were his responsibility.
The Spirit is a Spirit of Truth which enables us to look within to the dark
continent inside all of us. In the power and company of the Spirit of
Jesus Christ we are enabled to look at the shadows we all try to conceal
and, by looking through them, drain them of power to do us injury. The
Spirit can help us to drain the swamp of craving and fantasy, which we
can so easily project on to others.
I wonder if you have ever experienced a surge of dislike for someone at
first meeting and about whom you knew very little. It is a valuable clue to
what is going on inside us, because one of the laws of the spiritual life is
that we most dislike in others what we are trying to cover up in
The Spirit of Communication; the Spirit of Truth; and then the Spirit of
Power and Healing. My friend had been in the centre for four months. It
was a place of prayer and — while they had not been soft with him — he
had felt listened to, and had been given greater self-respect. He was
determined to stay off drugs, although returning to the place where he
had acquired the habit was going to make that hard. Then he said
something which seemed to me to be one way of summing up the whole
gospel: “If you wanna stay clean, you gotta stay in touch.”
The Spirit of Christ leads us into all the truth, equips us as healers and
ambassadors. Bizarre and showy spiritual gifts can easily puff us up.
Living and growing in the Holy Spirit is the essence of the Christian life.