Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
When I was growing up the third person of the Holy Trinity was called a Ghost. Also, when I was growing up a my favorite stories were ghost stories... GhostBusters, Beetlejuice, and the George C. Scott version of
a Christmas Carol.
Thus, when I was growing up, the Holy Ghost was my favorite.
Of course, the Holy Ghost was the reason for the creepy sounds that came from the church basement. Certainly, the Holy Ghost was in cahoots with the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus in making sure that they always had an eye on me (to make sure I was being good), and then rewarding me with presents anyway because clearly none of them were very good at catching my mischief.
During the 20th century English speakers began to understand the word “ghost” to refer to the spirit of a dead person. Like those which are busted by Venkman, Stantz, Spengler, and Zeddemore. By the mid-late 20th century, almost all translators of the Hebrew Bible and Greek New Testament had given up the “ghost” choosing instead the
much less haunting word “spirit.”
I grew up in the late 20th century. For whatever reason, my church held on to the term “ghost.” And for me, while I never saw a corporeal specter seated in the pew, going to church always came with the possibility of having a paranormal experience.
Today, as we make choices about the language we use to attempt to come closer to the mystery of God, or describe God’s love or articulate God’s presence, I often wonder what impact those choices will have on the next generation of Christians.
This month we will encounter Paul’s words to his beloved friend Timothy... “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.” (2 Timothy 1:14). The two thoughts of this sentence attempt to help Timothy strike a balance between two thoughts that might at first glance feel incompatible. How to guard, or keep safe that which we have been entrusted with, while at the
same time rely on the help of a Holy Spirit that is alive and free and on the move within us?
If we guard anything, but especially language, too closely we threaten it’s vitality or relevance. Perhaps this is what happened when the church held too tightly to a synonym for the third person of the Holy Trinity, like ghost. However, if we guard something like a word too loosely we can lose its essential meaning or significance.
Thankfully, as I carried with me images of Slimer and Scrooge’s ghosts, the church carried a Holy Spirit into the 21st century to be our helper and left the Holy Ghost behind.
I wonder how we find the balance between the forces that keep us unchangingly rooted to the Ghosts of a tradition and the those that compel us to embrace the changing movement of the Spirit? I wonder also about the images and ideas that our children, the future church, are forming from the language we have brought with us from the past. What are the words we will use to describe the indescribable
treasures we have been entrusted with? What are these words will only be able to discover and articulate with the help of the Holy Spirit?