The risen life: in the Spirit
A few years ago, I was visiting Harrogate, the Yorkshire town in which I was born. I had a feeling I’d like to go to a nearby place called Ripon, just to see it again. So I went to the railway station, and asked for a ticket to Ripon.
The lad behind the counter looked stupefied. He said, ‘Trains ’aven’t run t’Ri’om since t’mid-60s.’ (Long, may I add, before he was born. For him, this was a factoid he’d managed to imbibe.) My accent gets quite Yorkshire-ish when I’m over there, so there was no point saying, ‘I didn’t know, I’m from Australia.’ There are times over there when I must appear to be quite stupid.
Sometimes, people ask me about what things are like in England. I have no idea. My personal ‘England’ is something that was last seen in the 1960s through the eyes of an eleven-year old child.
Anything I know about the England of today I know through the news, and through talking to people who’ve been there recently; my knowledge of England is second-hand at best. That’s surely true of much of my knowledge about God. I believe what I believe because it’s what is taught by people I trust. When I was a boy, I had a sense of God. I don’t believe that sense of God was second-hand; but the specifics, the details, the bits I coloured my sense of God in with—they were all second-hand. Of course they were.
But as I’ve grown older, I’ve been less inclined to stick with second-hand knowledge. I’ve needed to test what I’ve been told about God by my own experience.
But how do I get experience of God? There’s only one way I know—through the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit. We’ve just sung
Lord, unveil my eyes,
let me see you face to face,
the knowledge of your love
as you live in me.
Isn’t that what we want?
We’ve already heard about some ways of connecting with the Spirit. We talked a lot about spiritual practices last year. Practices like prayer, study, confession, worship. We’ve spoken this year about living as people of the Beatitudes, as the poor in spirit, the meek who hunger and thirst for justice, as the pure in heart who wait upon God. It’s putting these things into practice, not just talking about them, that gives us experience of God’s Spirit.
Today, I’d like to introduce you to someone who knew something of God our Father through the working of the Holy Spirit. Her name was Catherine of Siena, a town in Tuscany, Italy. Catherine lived from 1347–1380 (do the maths: she died at 33 years of age). Catherine was a woman of great initiative and courage who often told popes and cardinals how they should behave.