I have been reading the book Unapologetic by Francis Spufford. One of the best books I have read in a while. The writing is excellent, the perspective is fresh yet timeless, clear yet deep. And real – not just avoiding religious jargon, but also the muddled thinking underneath religious jargon. Warning: he does use saucy language, so if this offends your sensibilities, at least I made you aware. But you should read it. Everyone who cares anything about living and communicating as a follower of Jesus in this time and place should read it.
This past Sunday, I preached on the anointing of the Holy Spirit (how’s that for religious jargon?) as one (perhaps the most) important part of the foundation of the Acts church. In trying to get real about what it feels like when the Spirit speaks to us, moves us, touches our hearts, I read this passage from Unapologetic (saucy language removed):
“It was a shimmer of sensation. One of those seems a flimsy foundation to rest anything on, let alone a huge and ponderous thing like an organized religion… It doesn’t seem much on which to build an institution. It doesn’t seem much to rest a way of living on. But that’s the way it is. The whole thing is—has to be—uncertain right down to the root. The whole thing has to remain as flimsy as you judge the experience of God’s presence to be. When I’m only trying to remember the feeling of it—right now, for example—I myself am often as sure as makes no difference that it’s all moonshine and muscle cramps. That there’s nothing there at all. That he doesn’t even exist… Yet what it has felt like when I have felt it cannot be pushed aside. It goes on working in me, this experience, whatever my changing opinion about it happens to be; it has altered my conviction of what the universe is like, way down deep, too deep for “he-doesn’t-even-exist” doubts to erase it. It has had consequences in me. That’s what I need to convey and probably can’t: that this is something so elusive that you can’t securely put your finger on it, and yet at the same time is so strongly felt, when it is felt, that it illuminates the world and reorganizes a life. It’s elusive and it’s a foundation. It’s a wisp of presence, as deniable as vapor, which you feel is holding the house up. It’s a presence which may well not be there, but which can draw out of you, when you feel it, a trust that it is the thing which precedes all things, us included; that it is first, and last, and largest, and lowest; that it exists without terms and conditions. That you can come to it in need and know that you’re forgiven. That it shines. And what comes next, if you’ve felt this? Well, even then, it won’t bother you if you don’t bother it. It is as easy to ignore as the air. But if you find your way to it again, it will be there again. You can’t stay there for long, but it stays there for ever. It is tireless, it is permanent. And (mostly) the more often you find your way to it, the easier the way becomes, until your private signposts to the path there become part of the texture of things you expect, on the inside of your head. You get used to the faint whisper of presence, in the direction that is no-direction. You start to try to feel out the dimensions of the experience, to work out what follows from this alarming thing: what you can know about it, what (if anything) you should do about it.”