Our vocabulary, superb and precise when describing the material world, falters before the inner processes of spirit. The very word spirit in many languages means nothing more than breath or wind. Thus Greek and Hebrew use exactly the same word for the Spirit of God, biological breathing, and even the wind gusts from a storm.
The words spirit and wind or breath have a clear affinity, as Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus shows: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). An invisible force from far away, whether wind or Spirit, has visible manifestations. And as a dying person breathes his or her very last breath and expires, life departs. Breath becomes air. Although the body remains intact, breath and spirit leave hand in hand…
We are told in so many words that eternal life cannot consist of mere oxygen and other nutrients. For eternal life we must establish a connection to a different kind of environment. Jesus makes it clear: “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:5-6).
I think of an astronaut on the moon, or someday Mars, who must rely on an oxygen source to survive. Spiritual life will likewise fail unless we have contact with a spirit like the wind, the Holy Spirit…
At Pentecost the Holy Spirit (with “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind”) entered and dramatically transformed a tiny band that was to become the church.
This event more than anything caused church leaders to include the Spirit as a separate person within the Godhead. They could not exclude the Spirit: evidence seemed as real and convincing as evidence for another Person whom they had seen and touched.
The Holy Spirit, then, allows the reality of God’s own self to establish a presence inside each one of us. God is timeless, but the Spirit becomes for us the present-tense application of God’s nature—the Go-Between God, in Bishop John Taylor’s lovely phrase. Correspondence with the Spirit keeps us spiritually alive.