One statement which would find an immediate assent from most people, I think, is the cry of Isaiah, “Truly you are a God who hides himself” (45:15).
This “hiding” is of dual nature–God hides Himself from us; we hide ourselves from Him. Both aspects of hiding are the result of sin, as we see in Genesis 3:24, where man and woman are driven away from a familiar and friendly relationship with God, and Genesis 4:14, where Cain spells out his punishment for killing his brother. This fact of sin means that God is not so much hiding from us, as hidden from us. We cannot see God and live, and Moses veils his face. The prophet tells the people: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you.” We are ashamed to be seen by him and so “put darkness for light”.
And yet . . . and yet . . . there have been, and are, so many good people who are trying to lead a good life by walking in God’s ways, people who are not guilty of great sin, who have never consciously turned away from God. They long to feel His presence, His power, and the warmth of His care. They have and express the same longing as the psalmist: “How long, O Lord, will you hide thyself for ever?” (89:46); “How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever?” (13:1). How often that shout has resounded through all the suffering of human history, “How long, O Lord, how long?”
Yet what is the truth? Astoundingly, it is not that we are searching for God, but that God is searching for us. The whole Bible is the history of that search for us by God, and a testimony to His patience. He has tried since our creation to communicate with us in order to arrive at the relationship idealised in the book of Exodus: “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (33:11). Some very exceptional people (mystic visions are not bought so cheaply that they can be common) have been privileged to be granted what the great mystic, Julian of Norwich, called “showings”. God showed Himself to her.
God showed Himself to her because she could in some way receive His confidences. It is not because He thought He would grant her a special favour. God’s chosen people, the Israelites, were not chosen in the sense that God looked down up the earth, waved His finger about, and, pointing, said, “Ah, those are the ones I shall make my favourites!” They were “chosen” in the sense that, quite simply, He was able to get through to them. Abraham–in a perception that is an almost inconceivably too great a stride for us to appreciate–saw that God is one. He was an apt pupil. He could learn. He could know. And his insight, his wisdom, was handed on to his people, as our faith has been handed on through countless generations until it has reached us.
I have begun the foreword to this book by Aneel Aranha, The School of the Holy Spirit, in this way because it seems to me to be a book of hope; a book of hope for everyone who wants God to show himself. There is today a great deal of seeking for sensationalism in religion, and not only in Christianity. Miracles are lightly talked of as if they are everyday currency; visions are seen as the almost inevitable result of spending a little extra time in prayer. The result is often a freakish sort of religion where particular revelations of the divine are little less than a sort of personal stunt. An understanding of our faith, any reading of the great spiritual writers cannot encourage to believe that this is right. No balanced person wants to turn into a religious freak (remember Matthew 6:17). No humble person can work towards out-of-the blue revelations of God. But everyone can count on that fact that God is, that God wants us to be as fully as he has planned, and that he will help us all he can.
This book shows how real change is possible for us. Not a change coming from without, as if struck by lightning, but a steady, relentless change from within, at a human pace best suited to transform our human nature.
The process is systematic, structured, educative. But not undemanding! Not at all. And full of surprises, the ways in which our God-lover loves to surprise us in the same way as a human being loves to give us beautiful surprises.
When God touches us, the touch can be seen, felt, from the effects. The Holy Spirit is gentle and infinitely discreet, one might almost say shy. His gifts are left quietly at our door for us to discover. The Holy Spirit is a tutor who leads us to the place where these gifts may be found and lets us gather them up for ourselves, so that we are granted the credit for His generosity, just as in the best human relationships.
The discipline required in this journey with God and to God is admirably spelled out. There is, for example, the necessary discipline (a rigorous requirement which brings great joy even before we have finished) to look back and see what God has done. In other words, to know Him by his effects. This is an insight familiar to those who have experienced the profound psychological and spiritual benefits of the acute, almost surgical, methods of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Fruits cannot be gathered unless the trees are patiently planted and tended.
We often fail to take fully into account that we are already baptised, sharing Christ’s life, so that in general there is no call for a road-to-Damascus experience. That might have to happen. It is not generally required. Our developing relationship with God through the power of His Holy Spirit is much like that of happily married human lovers where the relationship has a steady quality, mostly unromantic and undramatic, but with occasional wonderful festivals and surprises.
There is portrayed in this book a refreshing lack of drama in the usual sense of the word, although the abundance of results is dramatic enough for anyone. The Holy Spirit is patient, yes, and His patience must be matched by ours. To be reconciled, we have to tread back down the same path we came along. This book is a good guide to that path and an encouragement to those innumerable good people who want to change and want God though the power of the Holy Spirit to unite Himself to the person they are that they might be conformed “to the image of his Son.”
It is a birthright of every Christian. To speak of Julian of Norwich again, The School of the Holy Spirit gives the same sense of quiet confidence expressed in what the Holy Spirit showed her: I may make all things well, and I can make all things well, and I shall make all things well , and I will make all things well, and thou shalt see thyself that all manner of things shall be well.
This book, despite its exciting topic, is balanced, and approachable by anyone who wishes to prove the truth of this promise.