Welcome the Spirit; hear her cries
The Holy Spirit, creation, and the Culture of Life
The World Council of Churhces, a prime instrument of the ecumenical movement, has struggled for all of its 43 years to help the churches overcome the scandal of their division.
In a simpler time, church unity generally meant organic church union. But in today's council, made up of over 300 denominations, churchunity issues are as much about diversity as about union. At the same time, different theological and cultural forms and approaches have come to challenge once dominant understandings.
These issues of diversity and unity are most clearly highlighted every eight years or so during WCC assemblies. The Canberra Assembly in February - particularly Chung Hyun-Kyung's address on the main theme-was no exception. Chung represents a different tradition; she is one of the few women ever to speak at the center of assembly theological discussion. And the debate that ensued underlines the main issues: What limits diversity and why? How is that decided?
Chung's address, published here in edited form, provides a unique opportunity to expand and refine an authentic debate over church unity. Six respondents engage in that process. Readers are invited to join.
With humble heart and body, let us listen to the cries of creation and the cries of the Spirit within it.
Come. The spirit of Hagar, Egyptian, black slave woman exploited and abandoned by Abraham and Sarah, the ancestors of our faith.
Come. The spirit of Uriah, loyal soldier sent and killed in the battlefield by the great King David out of the King's 'greed for his wife, Bathsheba.
Come. The spirit of Jephthah's daughter, the victim of her father's faith, burnt to death for her father's promise to God if he were to win the war.
Come. The spirit of male babies killed by the soldiers of King Herod upon Jesus' birth.
Come. The spirit of Joan of Arc, and of the many other women burnt at the "witch trials- throughout the medieval era.
Come. The spirit of the people who died during the Crusades.
Come. The spirit Of indigenous people of the earth. victims of genocide during the time of colonialism and the period of great Christian mission to the pagan world.
Come. The spirit of Jewish people killed in the W chambers during the Holocaust.
Come. The spirit of people killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki by atomic bombs.
Come. The spirit of Korean women in the Japanese "prostitution army" during World War II, used and torn by violence-hungry soldiers.
Come. The spirit of Vietnamese people killed by napalm. Agent Orange, or hunger on the drifting boats.
Come. The spirit of Mahatma Gandhi, Steve Biko, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Victor Jam. Oscar Romero, and many unnamed women freedom fighters who died in the struggle for liberation of their people.
Come. The spirit of people killed in Bhophal and Chernobyl, and the spirit of Jelly babies from the Pacific nuclear test zone. Come. The spirit of people smashed by tanks in Kwangju, Tienanmen Square, and Lithuania.
Come. The spirit of the Amazon rain forest now being murdered every day.
Come. The spirit of Earth, Air, and Water, raped, tortured, and exploited by human greed for money.
Come. The spirit of soldiers, civilians. and sea creatures now dying in the bloody war in the Gulf.
Come. The spirit of the Liberator, our brother Jesus, tortured and killed on the cross.
The spirits cry
I come from Korea, the land of spirits full of Han. Han is anger. Han is resentment. Han is bitterness. Han is grief. Han is broken-heartedness and the raw energy for struggle for liberation. In my tradition people who were killed or died unjustly became wandering spirits, the Han-ridden spirits. They are all over the place seeking the change to make the wrong right. Therefore the living people's responsibility is to listen to the voices of the Han-ridden spirits and to participate in the spirits' work of making the wrong right. These Han-ridden spirits in our people's history have been agents through whom the Holy Spirit has spoken her compassion and wisdom for life. Without hearing the cries of these spirits we cannot hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. I hope the presence of all our ancestors' spirits here with us shall not make you uncomfortable. For us they are the icons of the Holy Spirit who became tangible and visible to us. Because of them we can feel, touch, and taste the concrete bodily historical presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst. From the people's land of Han-filled spirits I came to join with you in another land of spirits full of Han, full of the spirits of the indigenous people, victims of genocide.
I wish I could celebrate our coming together with you all, but my heart is overwhelmed with sadness due to the ongoing war in the Persian Gulf...The cries of mothers, wives, and sisters who lost their beloved in the war break our heart. Now we need a wailing wall in order to weep with them. "...The whole creation has been groaning in travail" (Rom. 8:22). In the midst of this senseless destruction of life we call upon the Spirit who "intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words" (Rom. 8:26). We pray to the Spirit asking her help desperately, "Come Holy Spirit. Renew our whole creation."
But what do we mean by this prayer? "Oh God! We messed up again. Come and fix up all our problems." Or are we saying, "Oh God, we know you are the strongest warrior, so powerful. We are sure your armament is stronger than Saddam or Bush"? I fear we may be returning to an infantile faith. Isn't this our temptation, to remain in our passivity, using prayer as an excuse not to struggle in solidarity with all forms of life? After many years of such infantile prayers, I know there is no magic solution to human sinfulness and healing our wounds. I also know that I no longer believe in an omnipotent, macho, warrior God who rescues all good guys and punishes all bad guys. Rather, I rely on the compassionate God, who weeps with us for life in the midst of cruel destruction.
The spirit of this compassionate God has been with us from the time of creation. God gave birth to us and the whole universe with God's life-giving breath (Ruach). This wind of life, this life-giving power of God is the spirit which enabled people to come out of Egypt, resurrected Christ from death, and started the church as a liberative community. We also experience the life-giving Spirit of God in our people's struggle for liberation, their cry for life, and the beauty and gift of nature. The Spirit of God has been teaching us through the -survival wisdom" of the poor. the screams of the Han-ridden spirits of our people, and the blessings and curses of nature. Only when we can hear this cry for life and can see the signs of liberation are we, able to recognize the Holy Spirit's activity in the midst of suffering creation....
When God's spirit was upon the people on the day of Pentecost, God confronted their broken hearts and called them into discipleship. Their nightmare of witnessing Jesus' death turned into an apocalpytic vision of a new world. Mary's and Rachel's bitter weeping for their dead children turned into the foundation for building a new community for life. When the life-giving power of the Spirit poured onto the faithful, they saw the vision of a new world:
where their sons and daughters shall prophesy
and their young men shall see visions
and their old men shall dream dreams
and their women and men slaves shall prophesy
(Acts 2:17- 18)
The rush of wild wind and fire for life from God called them out from the culture of silence, violence, and death. and called them into speech, the language of their own. They no longer needed to communicate with the language of their colonizers, rulers, and imperialists. They could hear the good news in their own native languages. Now they could hear each other and understand one another, not with the monolanguage of the Roman Empire, but with the diversities of languages of their own. It was a language of liberation, connection, and unification from below. The wild wind of God breaks down all divisions among us and around us. This wild wind of life calls us to be passionate lovers and workers for a new creation.
When the Spirit calls us
Then what should we do when the Spirit calls us? The first thing we should do is repent.... Indeed, repentance is the first step for any truthful prayer. What should we repent about? Many things, but first of all we should repent for our hidden love for Mammon. To prepare the way of the spirit, we need to be set free from the spell of Mammon by emptying ourselves. In Asia the practice of voluntary poverty has been the basis of religious life. When we become free from our own greed by practicing voluntary poverty in every area of our life, we will achieve the moral power to fight against forced poverty in all its forms.
Genuine repentance,metanoia, also means a radical change of direction in our individual and communal life. In order to feel the Holy Spirit, we have to turn ourselves to the direction of the wind of life, the direction the Holy Spirit blows. The Holy Spirit empowers us to move in this direction in our struggle for wholeness. This is the Holy Spirit's "Political Economy of Life" - a political economy based on the life-giving power of mutuality interdependence, and harmony.
In order to be an active agent for the Spirit's political economy of life, I envision three most urgent changes:
The first is the change from anthropocentrism to life centrism. One of the most crucial agendas for our generation is to learn how to live with the earth, promoting harmony, sustainability, and diversity. Traditional Christian creation theology and Western thinking put the human, especially men, at the center of the created world. and men have had the power to control and dominate the creation. We should remember. however, that this kind of thinking is alien to many Asian people and the indigenous people of the world. For us the earth is the source of life, and nature is "sacred, purposeful, and full of meaning. " Human beings are a very small part of nature. not above it....
Liberation theologies express the yearning for human wholeness. They reread the Bible and reinterpret Christian tradition and theology from their experience of oppression and liberation. This must be the time to reread the Bible from the perspective of birds, water, air, trees and mountains, the most wretched of the earth in our time. Learning to think like a mountain, changing our center from human beings to all living beings. has become our responsibility in order to survive.
The second major change is from the habit of dualism to the habit of interconnection. Our body and our spirit. our emotion and our mind, our world and God, immanence and transcendence, women and men, black and white, poor and rich: In this culture we are divided against ourselves. We forget that we all come from the same source of life, God, and all the webs of our lives are interconnected. In the beginning there was a relationship. God's yearning for relationship with the cosmos created the whole universe. When God created the universe, God liked it and felt it was beautiful. It was beautiful because it was in "right relationship": no exploitation, no division. It had its own integrity, all beings in the universe danced with the rhythm of God....
In traditional North East Asian thinking we call life energy Ki. For us Ki is the breath and wind of life. Ki thrives in the harmonious interconnections among sky. earth, and people. When there is any division or separation. Ki cannot flow and this leads to the destruction and illness of all living beings. Therefore for us renewal means to break the wall of separation and division so that Ki can breathe and flow in harmony.
The culture of life
The third change I envision is from the culture of death to the culture of life The Persian Gulf War is the best example of the culture of death. The way the conflict is solved is through killing the enemy. But peace achieved by this kind of violence will only lead the world into greater control or oppression. No cause can justify the innocent shedding of blood in a war. Who goes to war and sheds their blood, anyway? They are mostly young people from poor families. Many of them are people of color. Why do they go to war? For the economic and political interest of the few in power. who are mostly older, people, not for their own interests.... Only when we can suffer with others (compassion) can we transform the culture of death to the culture of life....
I want to close my reflection on the Holy Spirit by sharing with you my image of the Holy Spirit. which comes from my cultural background. This image embodies for me the three changes of direction I have described as necessary for metanoia: life centrism. the habit of interconnection, and the culture of life. The image does not come from my academic training as a systematic theologian but from my gut feeling, deep in my people's collective unconsciousness, coming from thousands of years of spirituality.
For me the image of the Holy Spirit comes from the image of Kwan In. She is venerated as goddess of compassion and wisdom by East Asian women's popular religiosity. She is a bodhisattva , enlightened being. She can go into Nirvana any time she wants to, but refuses to go into Nirvana by herself. Her compassion for all suffering living beings makes her stay in this world enabling other living beings to achieve enlightenment. Her compassionate wisdom heals all forms of life and empowers them to swim to the shore of Nirvana. She waits and waits until the whole universe. people, trees, birds. mountains. air, water, become enlightened. They can then go to Nirvana together where they can live collectively in eternal wisdom and compassion. Perhaps this might also be a feminine image of the Christ who is the firstborn among us, one who goes before and brings others with her?
Dear sisters and brothers, with the energy of the Holy Spirit let us tear apart all walls of division and the culture of death which separate us. And let us participate in the Holy Spirit's political economy of life, fighting for our life on this earth in solidarity with all living beings and building communities forjustice, peace, and the integrity of creation. Wild wind of the Holy Spirit blow to us. Let us welcome her, letting ourselves go in her wild rhythm of life. Come Holy Spirit, renew the whole creation.
CHUNG HYUN-KYUNG is professor of systematic theology at Ewha Women's University in Seoul. She is a member of the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea.
This is from a talk given at World Council of Churces Assembly in Canberra, Australia in February 1991.