Sunday, March 09, 2008


"Power understood as the ability to accomplish desired ends is present in human relationships no matter how particular communities or societies are organized. Nevertheless, Christian communities [should] recognize that the source of power in their life is the love of Christ which inspires and directs them. This is a style of power not of coercion but of empowerment of others.... It also connects to those at the margins of society who search for word of God’s love and justice." -- Letty M. Russell, Church in the Round: Feminist interpretation of the church

"The function of the Holy Spirit is to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable" -- John Wesley.

That latter quotation has long been my favourite rendition of the role of paraclete. I first picked it up years ago from one of Colin Morris's set piece oratorial master classes. It has been widely attributed but goes back, I'm told, to Wesley. That would make sense. There is, of course, both the comfortable and the disturbed in most of us, in most churches, most communities and most situations. The divine disturbance is frequently a reversal of expectations, an irruption of the excluded or marginalised into our best laid plans, a questioning of our answers, an antidote to our attempts to be "in control", a retort to the imprisonment of law and text, and a confounding of ecclesial and other power structures.

As I have often observed in relation to sentimental interpretations of Psalm 23, the word 'comfort' has resonances of 'advocate' in the Greek, paraklētos, and 'to strengthen' in the Latin, confortare ... so it isn't a matter of mere consolation. Those who think that "religion is a crutch" have clearly not seriously contemplated the Way of the Cross (we are a week away from Palm Sunday, when Jesus' entry into Jerusalem confirms the determination of the powers-that-be to do him down) or the profound disturbance of the Spirit, whose identity over and against false spiritualities, destructive Zeitgeists, lies in bringing good news to the poor, release to the captives, and sight to the blind (Luke 4).

Incidentally, just as the name Corpus Christi has been abused to name nuclear weapons systems (with court prophets called in to "bless" them), so Paraclete is also the name of a military superstore. "Armour you can trust". Not quite Zechariah 4.6, then.

[Picture © UrbisMediaProductions. The Paraclete watches over a derelict small-town church in Haliewa, Hawaii.]

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