Baptism by the Holy Spirit and Fire
When I was a newbie born again Christian (many moons ago) I was told that I wasn’t really a Christian until I was baptized by the Holy Spirit – evidenced by speaking in tongues. I’m embarrassed to admit that I sat around for a couple of weeks trying to babble with conviction sufficient enough to persuade me that I was “in”.
So, every year when the season of Advent returns with John the Baptist announcing that there is one coming who baptizes, not with water, but with the Holy Spirit and with fire, I am reminded of this rather pathetic period of my life. But I also wonder how this baptism might be reinterpreted from within an evolutionary perspective.
The Holy Spirit in the Judeo-Christian tradition is always associated with the breath of life. At the most basic level to be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be filled with life – to experience life with such an immediacy and directness that I awaken to the nature of Reality in all its sacred Mystery. This experience isn’t the sole property of Christians, of course, but we use our language – the language of poetry and metaphor – to describe it: baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire.
It is my own experience that I am breathed upon by the Holy Spirit (and breathe most deeply and effortlessly) under two sets of conditions: first, when I am giving and receiving love, and second when I experience a sacred evolutionary impulse to evolve coursing through me. Even more profoundly, as I identify with that impulse I feel an inner fire burning. That fire is the grace we require to sustain us as we engage in the work of realizing the Kin(g)dom of God. As we surrender to this sacred impulse, the very breath of life animates us to be vital centres of creative emergence — the dream of “God” for Earth.
Importantly, this evolutionary mysticism is not otherworldly. It is ecstatic, yes. But not in the sense of transporting me to an otherworldly realm. Rather, this ecstasy causes me to delight in this world, in this Earth, in this body and soul and mind, and in the wild beauty of diversity.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit takes us deeper into the heart of Reality, a movement of “inscendence” (Thomas Berry), as much as it is an experience of transcendence.
I wrote a sermon recently about how the two baptisms that John describes — the baptism by water for repentance and the baptism by Holy Spirit and fire — are complementary, describing two spiritual practices that constitute a rhythm of immersion in the very depths of life.
This baptism by fire isn’t going happen by sitting around trying to babble our way into salvation. It occurs as we clarify our intention and consent to allowing the breath of life to burn away all that would keep us from giving birth to the Christ — the presence of love — again and again.
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