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Life in the Spirit
Life in the Spirit

The Spirit in Jesus

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Religious historian Diana Butler Bass describes the intimate relationship between Jesus and the Spirit: 

The Spirit empowers Jesus to be continually present in the world, and, it must be admitted, the same Spirit has been fully at work since creation…. Indeed, God’s Spirit conceives Jesus, initiates his public ministry, and sustains his spiritual life. The Spirit is the driving force, the animating creative life of the entire cosmos, responsible, in particular, for the vision of those in human history most attuned to the heartbeat of God. Even the apostle Peter recognized this as he preached to the Gentiles: “You know … how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed … for God was with him” (Acts 10:36–38).  

To separate Jesus from the Spirit is nearly impossible. Jesus would not exist without the Spirit; Jesus would have been a humble tradesperson sans Spirit; Jesus would not be a continuing presence if not for the Spirit. Christian theology has typically privileged knowledge about Jesus as the way to know the Spirit, but the Christian life works the opposite way. We cannot know Jesus without the Spirit.  

In the scriptures, the Spirit is called the ruach, pneuma, and the shekhinah, the “wind,” the “breath,” and the “dwelling.” [1] Theologian Marjorie Suchocki refers to these as God’s power, wisdom, and presence. Those three things are the heart of redemption, of experiencing the full life God intends for all:  

God as presence answers alienation and loneliness with love; God as wisdom answers the loss of time with trust; God as power answers injustice with empowering hope. This vision of a redemptive God of presence, wisdom, and power comes from the biblical revelation of God’s presence in Jesus of Nazareth, named the Christ. [2]  

When Jesus is understood in relationship with Spirit as presence, wisdom, and power, we can experience Jesus as a dynamic figure, one related to God’s mysterious activity and one who dwells with us, always present.  

Butler Bass shares how Jesus’ Jewish followers might have understood his connection to the Spirit:  

Jesus, as a Jew, would have been familiar with the idea of shekhinah, the presence of God dwelling with the world. As Amy-Jill Levine says, “Judaism has the idea of the Shekinah, the feminine presence of God descending to earth and dwelling among human beings.” [3]…

Was that not how Jesus’s first followers experienced him?… As a person inhabited by shekhinah? That he somehow was the dwelling place of God, and that there was no real conflict in the mind of his brother and sister Jews between bearing the mystery of the sacred and being fully human? And if that is who he was, is that who he still is? The presence, the wisdom, the divine dwelling with us, the feminine spirit, here and now?  

[1] Michael E. Lodahl, Shekhinah/Spirit: Divine Presence in Jewish and Christian Religion (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1992), 41–57.  

[2] Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, God, Christ, Church: A Practical Guide to Process Theology, rev. ed. (New York: Crossroad, 1989), 87. 

[3] Amy-Jill Levine, “A Jewish Take on Jesus,” U.S. Catholic 77, no. 10 (October 2012): 20.  

Diana Butler Bass, Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, and Presence (San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2021), 222–223, 224.  

Image credit and inspiration: Tim Zänkert, body of water (detail), 2017, photo, Unsplash. Click here to enlarge image. Like sunlight on water, we cannot grasp or clutch Spirit, but its beauty is with us all the same. 

Story from Our Community:  

I’m a marine biologist who retired from my work several years ago. For a long time, I sorely missed working with the salt and fish of the Suwannee Sound. I envied those young and fit enough to continue the work. At 81, I have realized that my life is not about net fishing or mending nets, it’s here at my farm observing the daily fluctuations of Nature. When I leave my farmhouse and look up into the trees or the sky and see the vultures, a neighborly owl, and several squirrels, I see the distant past. I see the Holy Spirit, and I see my true life.  
—Hedy H. 

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