Last Sunday our new vicar Mat did a nice little introduction to the theme of the Holy Spirit using a balloon. The analogy ran: we are the balloon. Without the Spirit we are flat and lifeless. We must allow the Spirit not only to fill us, but also to shape and fashion us (cue balloon modelling) into what we are called to become. In addition, just as a balloon leaks air so we 'leak' the Spirit, and so need continually re-filling.
Now, I'm no stranger to analogies in a church context, and particularly not to analogies re: the Holy Spirit (or HS, as I'm suddenly going to abbreviate). Anyone who has grown up in a charismatic context will have come across something similar at some point, and I can't say it's ever bothered me before. What set me thinking was that Mat prefaced the balloon demo by saying that ALL Christians have the HS - and quite right too say I - and that churches need to beware of somehow communicating that there are better classes of Christians (i.e. 'Spirit-filled' ones), or of forcing people into a painfully forced waiting game, whereby they are desperately seeking 'proof' that they are Spirit-filled. Again, Amen say I.
BUT...if we leak...can we leak terminally? Can we become so deflated that we no longer 'have' the Spirit...in which case, are we still Christians? This is the question that started to rumble around my theologically inept brain.
Now obviously this is a total failure to take the analogy for what it is - an analogy. My concern wasn't really that my HS supply might run down to terminal level. It was that we have become so familiar with certain analogies that we actually start to believe them, at face value. We discussed this as a family, asking the girls what images they could think of for the HS in the Bible. They came up with wind, water, flame, prescence and dove. But there are more, which may fit better with the culture into which they were speaking. I think we've taken a couple on board so strongly that we're in danger of imagining that the Spirit actually exists in gaseous or liquid form.
And that idea of being filled, or even 'having' the Spirit...it could suggest that the HS is not free to come and go as he/she chooses. There, I've got the Spirit - the lid's on - trapped, like a wasp in a jar. And you can't have it.
There's nothing wrong with any of these analogies. But one analogy will not sum up the essence of God. Nor will each analogy - even if straight from the pages of the Bible - be helpful for everyone (everyone knows someone, if not themselves, who would run kicking and screaming from any consideration of God as Father, for example!)
Maybe it's time we came up with some new stories, with some new language, to reflect the little glimpses each of us have received of God in the world we live in. Here's my stab:
We are each computer hard drives, and God is the Voice that calls to us. The computer cannot understand the Voice, however long and patiently the Voice calls to the computer. But with the installation of voice recognition software the computer can begin to make sense of the sounds and to form them into words on a screen, words that could communicate what the Voice is saying to others. When the software is first installed the words sometimes come out wrong. The Voice might say, 'Be at peace', but the computer might hear, 'Eat some peas'. This is not the fault of the Voice, nor of the computer, nor of the voice recognition software. It is a problem that is only solved gradually, over time, as the three work together repeating and listening and correcting; so the patterns and nuances of the Voice become more and more familiar, and the computer is able to more faithfully transmit the message that the Voice is wanting to share.
OK so it's not poetry. But getting away from worrying about balloons and their capacity to leak was probably a healthy move for me.