I love the old King James version of the term for Holy Spirit. I especially like it when a Brit with a plumy accent, generally a priest, intones the phrase Holy Ghost. It has a certain High Church je ne sais quoi. Of course, the Elizabethan term went the way of all fleshly language once ghost took on a more sinister and less neutral meaning. In today’s America, for example, the older word might conjure up a vision of Casper the Friendly Ghost with wings and a halo: not evil exactly but certainly not what Christian churches have in mind for the Third Person of the Trinity. Moreover, ghosts have become a staple in horror movies, where they are generally not cute and squishy like Casper. There’s even a classical antecedent: think of the ghost of Hamlet’s father in Shakespeare’s play. So nowadays in Episcopal congregations like the historic St. John’s parish in Boulder, Colorado, i.e., my church, the Book of Common Prayer is full of the phrase “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, in whose Name(s) we congregants are multiply blessed during the Eucharistic service...
I have heard it said that less educated Muslins believe that the Trinity consists of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. This configuration could make sense if you think about it until you realize that Papa Joe, who we all know is not Jesus’s real father anyway, drops out of the story soon after the 12-year-old boy Jesus takes off on his own to visit the Temple in Jerusalem and tell the rabbis there what’s what. And clearly, it wouldn’t do for God the Father to disappear from the story, or the earth, as the First Century of our era had barely begun.
A major mystery of Trinitarian Christianity—Unitarians and Quakers don’t have this problem—is how can God be in three Persons and still be one God? I once heard a Lutheran youth minister explain it to his charges this way. Think of water, he told the kids. Now when it’s solid, we call it ice; when it’s a liquid, water; and when it’s a gas, steam or water vapor. They are three different manifestations or forms of the very same substance: good, old H-2-0. So, God the Father could be the basic material, water; God the Son, solidified into a mortal human body, or ice (that gets melted!); and God the Holy Spirit, steam. And now, focusing on the Third Person of the Trinity, let’s consider in closing its Greek name, ta hagia ta pneuma. The first part just means “holy” like the name of the great Byzantine cathedral, the Hagia Sophia, or Holy Wisdom. The next noun, however, is much more interesting. Pneuma, generally translated as “wind,” really means the pneumatic force, or suction. And if you think about it, wind doesn’t technically blow although it seems like it does. The reality is that a lower-pressure area sucks air from a higher-pressure one. Before Jesus died, he told the disciples he would not leave them totally on their own but would send the [Holy] Spirit as their Comforter to guide them in their work on behalf of the Gospel. And so it is now, 2,000 years later, according to the Church, namely, that God the Spirit is available to be with and in each of us, but like a polite guest, It needs to be invited in. May It—He actually—be with us all, Christian and non-Christian alike, since, as Black Folks say, “God don’t make no junk,” and “All God’s chillen got wings!”