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Being a Spirit Person

When I was a student pastor at Trinity-Pilgrim UMC in Brookfield, there was an older woman there who loved Jesus. I mean really LOVED Jesus. She literally (as the old hymn says) walked with him and talked with him and knew him personally. And, no, as far as I could tell, she wasn’t psychotic. But, honestly, I had a really hard time relating.

I didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus. I really couldn’t figure out how to do that. When I was in 8th grade I went to a friend's house for a small Bible study group and was eventually talked into saying The Prayer, you know, the one where you confess your sinfulness and invite Jesus into you heart as your personal Lord and Savior. But I felt nothing. I really wanted to, but I didn’t.

During my last in seminary, I was taking four classes to push through and finish my masters, I had a four-year-old and an 18-month-old at home, I was commuting to Evanston for school, and I was working part time as a student pastor. To graduate and get an appointment in a local church I had to write a Senior Credo, basically an “I believe” statement on a whole bunch of theological and doctrinal topics and then go through a panel interview. My advisor was a larger than life, African American woman, Dr. Toinette Eugene. I was meeting with her about my credo, worried about getting it right, and most likely more than a little stressed out. All I truly remember is her looking at me and asking, “Kaye, do you love Jesus?” And for a reason I cannot explain – hormones, stress, the spirit – my eyes started leaking and I croaked out a “yes.” Dr. Eugene said, that’s all I really need to know.

Well, I got through my Senior Credo, but I still didn't really understand Jesus. What exactly my relationship was supposed to be with him? What was I supposed to feel? What was I supposed to do with him? Because I never really bought the whole “personal lord and savior” thing. Nor did I really believe he walked on water, physically rose from the dead, or turned water into wine. 

A long time ago someone told me that most people relate to one aspect of the Trinity more than the others. I clearly was not a Jesus person. Nor was I a God the Father girl. Nope, I was definitely a Spirit woman. This theogy enabled me to not worry so much about Jesus, but it didn’t answer my questions.

As you may know, I have a long list of theology and doctrine and practices that the traditional church has promoted that I have not believed or appreciated. It has taken me years to untangle Jesus from the ecclesiastical nonsense of the church, and it is my opinion that the biggest mistake the church ever made was to elevate Jesus to a position of God, placing him out of reach of us normal human beings.

John Shelby Spong in his book Why Christianity Must Change or Die wrote this:

Underneath the prevailing theistic images of God, we see a divine presence called spirit within us and most spectacularly in Jesus of Nazareth. We find our spirit touched by his spirit, our lives enhanced by his life, our being called to a new level by his being. In the limited God vocabulary of the first-century Jewish world, they were driven to assert that a God presence, somehow connected with spirit, had been met in Jesus of Nazareth.

Beyond the boundaries of theism, which have limited us for so long, we discover a startling revelation of God at the very center of human life, and Jesus, the spirit person, stands at the heart of that revelation. Perhaps that is why we have seen him as a God bearer. Perhaps that is why we have tended to use the language of incarnation.

Spong holds that the earliest followers of Jesus thought of him as a spirit person, just as Moses and Elijah and a few other Old Testament figures had been seen as spirit people. If only someone had explained Jesus to me as a spirit person, my relationship with Jesus, Christianity, God and myself would have developed much differently. So, let’s talk about this.

The apostle Paul, whose letters to the house churches throughout the Mediterranean are the first written material we have about Jesus, talked about the spirit often in his writings. The basic gist we get of his understanding of Jesus (limited by a first century vocabulary, religious background and understanding of God) was that Jesus was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, not as God, but as a normal human being who had opened himself up to the spirit in such a way that the fruits of this relationship were obvious – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, compassion, self-control and so forth. To Paul, Jesus’ walk with the spirit enabled Jesus to enhance and bring forth the spirit in others. Paul felt he was a living example of this.

In Paul’s later writings, he talks about the Spirit of God being within everyone bringing wisdom and spiritual understanding. When we connect in this place, we are one in the spirit. There is so much talk of Jesus and the spirit that by the time the gospels are written (30-60 years after Jesus' death), they are done in such a way that no one can miss this.

In Matthew and Luke, Jesus becomes a spirit person at his inception when the Holy Spirit descends upon Mary and she becomes pregnant.

In the story of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, the authors of the gospels created a scene in which Jesus stepped into the water of the Jordan River and is affirmed again as a spirit person. Keep in mind that water often symbolized Spirit, but the Jordan River had a special place in the Hebrew religion. On three different occasions in the Old Testament, Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, parted the Jordan River, just as Moses had the Red Sea. Now, Jesus stepped into this mystical river and, while he doesn’t part it, the barrier, the veil between the spiritual world and the material world is breached when the “skies opened and the Holy Spirit descended on the Anointed One in visible form, like a dove.” And just in case someone missed that, “A voice from heaven said, “You are my Own, my Beloved. On you my favor rests.”

Immediately after his baptism Jesus, "filled with the spirit" or "driven by the spirit" (depending on your version), goes out into the wilderness for 40 days (notice the parallel with Moses) where in Mark and Matthew, the angels take care of him.

Remember none of these stories appear in Paul’s writings, the authors of the gospels, in mythological story form, attempted to explain how Jesus came to be the amazing spirit-person he was later in life. There wasn’t a virgin birth, there wasn’t a baptism in the River Jordan or 40 days in the wilderness. And it really doesn’t matter if there was or wasn’t. What we’re meant to understand from these and other gospel stories is that Jesus possessed a relationship with spirit and so can we.

Spong comments, “In the particular life of the spirit person Jesus, they saw not only God, but also a picture of what each of us might look like in our fulfilled spirit state.”

The allusions to Jesus as a spirit person are many. But what exactly does it mean? A spirit person is one who is vital and alive with a special presence that speaks of transcendance. A spirit person gave life to others, enhanced others' relationships to Spirit, has a deep wisdom, and wasn't bound by traditional limits. Perhaps most importantly, a spirit person is one who is whole.

We are and have the potential to be spirit people. We are because the spirit is always in us, and we have the potential to be because so often that part of us lies dormant within. We’ve buried the spirit beneath our busyness, our fears and worries, our ego and desires, our insecurities, jealousies, shame and guilt. Always, and in all ways, the spirit strives to lead us, breathe life into us, connect us to all things so that we become expansive, joyful, hopeful, bold people. She wants to lead us into ourselves to discover wholeness under the baggage, and beauty under what we believe is ugly about ourselves. And when we live as that spirit person, we also have the potential to give that life to others.

Love & Light!