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Center for Action and Contemplation

The “Age of the Spirit”

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers describes how the Holy Spirit helps us to follow Jesus’ way of self-emptying love in times of immense transition:   

Religious commentator Phyllis Tickle [1934–2015] pointed to this time as one of those periodic awakenings or “rummage sales” that Christianity holds every five hundred years or so, when it purges what’s no longer useful and reforms itself for the age to come. [1] In her final years, she promised we were entering “the Age of the Spirit,” when our obsession with order and control would backfire, and we’d be forced to rely on the wily ways of the Holy Spirit. [2] “Our jaws should drop open in amazement,” she remarked at a [2013] Emerging Church conference … (I was sitting in the pews scribbling furiously). “I think we’re seeing a shift in Christianity as dramatic as that first Pentecost wildfire.” [3]  

In the very first chapter of Mark, Jesus heads from Nazareth to be baptized by John in the River Jordan. Just as Jesus comes up from the waters, the heavens break open and the Holy Spirit descends on him like a dove. “And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’” (Mark 1:10–11). Everything that follows is powered by the Spirit and by the love of God.  

The same Spirit that Jesus received now rests on anyone who follows him. God invites us into a covenant, where by the power of the Spirit we can choose to allow our hearts to break, and then take the pieces—our lives, our goods, our love, and our privileges—and share it all like a broken loaf of communion bread.  

Granted, this is a very non-American way of being. Think of the phrases that shape our national identity. We assert our “right” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” which means we are free—and even expected—to organize our lives around our own individual desires. So much of our American story consists of groups of people protecting themselves and what’s theirs, with a gun or a flag or the cloak of racial, class, or gender privilege.  

Jesus’s story is exactly the opposite. In this moment, as we reckon with the limits and consequences of self-centrism, domination systems, and the church’s capitulation to empire, we could lean into the Jesus way. We could reclaim kenosis [self-emptying], or perhaps claim it for the first time. [4] 

Imagine recentering on the God we know in Jesus. Imagine becoming practicing communities that follow Jesus and embody his community of love. The forces of empire and establishment will tell you that’s a worthy cause but impossible in this day and age. They are wrong. What it takes is disciples who together follow Jesus in his Way of Love, lean fully into the Spirit that animated him, and try to do what he did and live as he lived, so that we, our communities, and the whole world might become more like him. [5] 


[1] Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2008), 16, 19–31. 

[2] Phyllis Tickle with Jon M. Sweeney, The Age of the Spirit: How the Ghost of an Ancient Controversy Is Shaping the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014). 

[3] Stephanie Spellers, The Church Cracked Open: Disruption, Decline, and New Hope for Beloved Community (New York: Church Publishing, 2021), 12–13. 

[4] Spellers, Church Cracked Open, 94–95. 

[5] Spellers, Church Cracked Open, 118–119. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Exercise in Grief and Lamentation credits from left to right: Jenna Keiper, Jenna Keiper, Izzy Spitz. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

On retreat, the CAC staff used watercolors to connect to our collective grief. This is one of the watercolor paintings that came from that exercise. 

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Richard’s Daily Meditations are a way for me to stay centered in my journey. As a spiritual guide, I am aware of the importance of being grounded by the Holy Spirit. I look forward to each morning as I set my internal movement by the hopeful words shared in the Daily Meditations. I am just as grateful for the challenges that sometimes arise as I ponder the weekly topics. The meditations are lessons in re-examining my moral compass as I continue to tread the sometimes turbulent waters of life. —Tanya H.  

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