Dwelling places for the Holy Spirit


Today is the Feast of St Thomas the Apostle. The reading for Morning Prayer in the Divine Office is from Ephesians on the topic of being temples of the Lord: “You are stranger and aliens no longer. No, you are fellow citizens of the saints and members of the household of God. You form a building which rises on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is fitted together and takes shape as a holy temple in the Lord; in him you are being built into this temple, to become a dwelling place for God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2: 19-22). The reading fits with the Feast in emphasizing the apostles as foundational and the way in which the Body of Christ extends to the larger church.

This idea of “becoming a dwelling place for God” is especially interesting. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in his book To Heal a Fractured World, interprets the Torah by noting an important reversal that takes place: whereas Genesis begins with God creating a world for us, eventually God invites us to build a world for God. Sacks asks the question, what kind of world are we building? Is it the kind in which God could dwell? He then connects back this question to matters of social justice, arguing that God does not alone create a just world, but rather asks that we become a part of building it up through our actions. Not only were people inspired to build a temple in Jerusalem but also to make the world a place that respects holiness and justice.

As Christians, we affirm that Jesus came into a world already broken. God comes into the world as it is with all its sin, mess, and brokenness as well as its goodness and light. Still, the invitation to us is similar in the gift of the Holy Spirit: what kind of world are we building? If we knew Christ were coming again today, would we be ready to receive such a guest?

The reading from Ephesians emphasizes the expansion of the building that constitutes the household of God. Although the prophets and apostles are at the foundation, the building keeps growing. Where does the Holy Spirit work; where is God at play? Not only priests and religious, not only the whole Christian community of God, but also all people of good will. Pope Francis in Laudato Si quotes a Sufi mystic along with a number of Christian mystics; a few commentators (such as Frank Clooney SJ) have already noted the significance of doing so, to cite the inspiration of another faith as grounding for Catholic/ Christian teaching: we can believe that the Spirit is alive and at work in other faiths, too.

Indeed, Laudato Si also encourages us to remember that the non-human world which is like a sister or a brother to us. Or, to use the language of the “cosmic Christ,” Christ’s body extends further than the one that he took on in 1st century Judaism, further than the “body of Christ” in the Eucharist and in the Church’s members, and is a force where God continues to create, in and through all creation, working through all that is: human and non-human. The whole cosmos is the “dwelling place for God in the spirit.” How can we cooperate with Christ’s creativity? How do we treat and cooperate with our brothers and sisters, in whom the Spirit is still alive and at play?

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