The opening verses of Genesis offer the mysteries of creation for our consideration. Of particular note is the primary role of the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit of God moved over the face of the waters… “ Light and dry land are made to appear and then, the miracle of life: “Let the earth bring forth…”
The earth is, above all, the planet on which life comes forth. For although we search for life on other planets and moons, and speculate about all the possible candidates for life across the galaxy, here on earth – life cannot be hidden. It is everywhere!
Indeed, life on earth can hardly be stopped. Even in the inhospitable depths of the Philippine Trench in the Pacific Ocean (10,000 meters + deep), or the sulfurous vents of deep ocean volcanic spots with extreme temperatures and pressures of ocean – there is life. We spend frightful sums of money to poison insects and undesirable weeds, and yet they remain. Civilization is but a small island carved out of the teaming jungles of earth. When human beings pause, the jungle returns. Life on earth is inexorable.
Our own bodies carry this same life. Though we battle with bacteria and viruses, it is a battle of life. A virus takes up residence in our respiratory tract – our body fights back. It is a battle that matches life against life. Most often we win.
This same life that “moved over the waters” in the beginning is heard by the Church as the sound of a “rushing mighty wind,” some fifty days after Christ’s Pascha. And like the inert earth in Genesis, suddenly the Church springs to life. That first day of Pentecost, 3,000 members were added. And the Church has continued relentlessly through the ages. Despite persecutions and cultural shifts, falling empires and rising philosophies, the faith that began as a small seed of 120 souls on the Sunday of Pentecost, continues to spread. It is inexorable.
There was a recent study that described a “decline in Christianity” in America. There is doubtless a decline in something, but not in the life of Pentecost that still rushes through the world and feeds the living Church. The most inhospitable cultures and regimes still harbor hidden churches in their midst – and they grow.
The same Spirit that blew so loudly on Pentecost continues to blow to this day. It blows through Baptism and makes the waters to be the place of the death and resurrection of Christ. It hallows the Holy Chrism and fills the Church with the sweetness of its smell. That odor of sanctity frequently flows from the relics of God’s saints, and sometimes signals their presence when they might otherwise be missed.
It flows in the lives of individual believers as the grace that sustains and empowers all things. The goodness of God is evident in every living thing. It is evident as well in our own lives. It is distortion and delusion that make us blind to what is obvious everywhere. I often wonder at those who do not believe in God. For some, He’s too big to see; for others He’s too big to miss.
The work of the Holy Spirit, from the very beginning, has several characteristics. First, there is order. Life is an organic ordering of non-living material. And this ordering is truly miraculous. It is not simply the collecting of organic material into a new pile of organic material. It is the gathering of non-organic material into a living organism. And there, the inert world becomes a living being. We dwell on the living planet.
Secondly, the ordering that takes place is beneficial and healthy. All things that live move towards greater life and the creation of yet more life. Nothing exists with the purpose of ending all things. For every setback and disaster, life moves to order itself in a manner that overcomes the setback. Life survives.
Lastly, the ordering that takes place all around us is not only a living order that tends towards health and goodness, it is an order that always tends towards beauty. Some might immediately object that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but I have never encountered any eyes that deny the beauty of the world we inhabit.
Those same tendencies are present in human lives as the work of grace. Grace sustains us and maintains our very existence. It also orders us into greater goodness and health. Our bodies work around the clock protecting us and adapting to new challenges. And in perhaps the greatest gift of all, our lives bear spiritual fruit. The created becomes a participant in the life of the Uncreated. “God became man so that man could become God,” the Fathers said. Before them, St. Paul had already noted that all of creation groans, like a woman in childbirth, for the “glorious freedom of the children of God.”
It is inexorable.