What characterizes the Holy Spirit? Of course, from a theological view, the Spirit is part of the Trinity, one of the persons of God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But where do we see the Spirit, and how we know the Spirit as present in our lived experience?
First, we see that the Spirit is characterized by movement. Jesus describes the Spirit to Nicodemus as being like the wind. The reading from Acts describes it as akin to tongues of fire. In Morning Prayer today in the Divine Office, the psalm of praise is prefaced with the imagery of rivers and streams. The Spirit is all about the flow, movement, and action of God in the world. Wind, flowing water, and fire are what they are only if is a constancy of change. The Trinity itself has this motion and movement, as a constant movement of Love.
The Spirit is also characterized as that which renews: “Lord, send our your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.” The Spirit makes all things new. Spring is all around us—where live there is new growth in the plants, birds making nests, and flowers blooming in sequences, one after another. One set of blooms in my yard disappears but another reappears. The Spirit renews us in the same way, allowing us to move forward into the “living stream” of our lives.
Jesus gives the apostles the Spirit when he tells them that they are forgiven and that they also are to go and offer forgiveness. This Spirit of renewal is what allows forgiveness to take place: God leads us to forgive one another and so to renew our relationships by living them out in new ways, or at least to be forgetful of the past so that we can live with one another in the present.
The Spirit is also characterized by diversity within unity. The Spirit unites us in community: the tongues of flame that descend on the disciples in Pentecost come from one single source. But each person in the Christian community is given his or her own gifts like a body with many parts that function together. The Church cannot function without both unity and plurality. Like the fire that lights the individual candles at the Easter vigil service, but comes from the central candle, the Spirit similarly lives in us. In diversity and difference there is also an underlying connection in God.
The Spirit commissions or, better, co-missions in that God invites us into partnership in renewing the earth. We do not just wait for God to make the world a just and living place but are invited to partner in friendship with God to bring the world to greater peace and justice.
The Spirit is, above all, a Spirit of love. The fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Love is first and that which guides all the rest.