20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
John 20:20-23 NRSV
This week the Holy Spirit comes up in lectionary. Speaking personally for a moment, I had a view of the Holy Spirit when I was a child. I always saw it as feminine. I can remember I used the feminine pronoun all the time. To me, God was non-gender specific, Jesus was male, and the Spirit was female. This was huge for me, as someone who was raised by a father, and no strong female influences nearby. As a child, congregants at my church would simply inquire, "Why are you saying "she"?" I'd be happy to share my theory, and they added nothing more.
It wasn't until I entered high school, and I came across an overzealous Baptist. He heard I was going into ministry. It didn't matter that my high school self believed that was music ministry, and not pulpit ministry, he was going to soundly put me in my place.
Every time I met him, he came with a bible full of little dog ears. At first I discussed the passages with him, but then I realized he was cherry picking, a word here which means he was pulling a single verse without context. (Sorry, I've been reading A Series of Unfortunate Events to my son.) By that time, I had been using contextual analysis for a couple of years. It was basically the only theological tool I could use at that point.
Then he came with the big guns. You know the ones: Paul and Timothy. That's when I realized he was getting outside help, probably from his minister. Once I started getting outside help, well it was over. Both of us had lost, as the conversation reached the point of absurdity.
Anyway, months after our bible battle had ended he heard me refer to the Spirit as "she".
"What are you doing?" He bluntly asked me.
At first I didn't know what he was talking about. Once he clarified, I told him the same thing I'd been telling congregants.
"You're wrong. How can God be non-gender specific, when we call him Father."
Straight to the heart.
Also, the Holy Spirit is a male, and I have bible verses to back it up.
K.O. He destroyed me in two sentences. This is a great example of how the bible is both a tool and a weapon. When used appropriately it can heal, help, guide, and grow. Used incorrectly it can destroy people. I've been destroyed by the bible before.
I don't think this kid realized what he was doing. He was doing more than getting a fellow sister in Christ on the same biblical page. He was severing a very important spiritual connection. I had no self-esteem. I believed I was worthless. I needed to understand how I was made in the image of God. If God couldn't be female, I must not be crafted in that image. Like I said, he destroyed me.
The point: The spirit comes when we don't expect it. It's form is ambiguous on purpose. In the New Testament alone I can name three very different forms.
Of the Earth: Like a dove that drops down on Jesus at his baptism. (I know, I know. We both know this is a really loose connection, but I loved that title so much I had to use it. Yes, it's probably the exact opposite of Earth.)
Wind: In our scripture for today, Jesus breaths the Spirit on the Disciples.
Fire: The Spirit lights upon the Disciples like flame.
The Spirit comes to each of us outside of our knowledge and biblical know-how. It gives us what we need. A gentle drop of love and acceptance, when coming out of the baptismal waters. A promise of connection, no matter what. A fire to keep us going when all seems lost. A realization that all of us are made in God's image, no matter what.
Perhaps our biggest problem today is not in what we can label, but in letting go in what we can't.