Years ago when I closed my eyes to pray…

Dear Willowdale friend,

Years ago when I closed my eyes to pray, in my mind’s eye I saw my young daughter. Does that qualify as a vision?

On Sunday, I will preach from a passage (John 14:15-21) in which Jesus promises “the Paraclete,” which is a glowing name for the Holy Spirit. Jean Vanier explains that the Greek word “paraclete” means “the one who answers a call.” Vanier explains further that a paraclete “defends and comforts and speaks up for a weak person.” Bible translators struggle to capture the fullness of this beautiful title, and they offer a variety of terms: advocate, counselor, comforter, helper, etc. The Holy Spirit as Paraclete encompasses all these meanings, and Vanier writes that

The Paraclete is given
to those who are lonely and need the presence of a friend,
to those who are lost and poor in spirit
and who cry out to God

Without separating the two, Vanier distinguishes the quiet presence of the Paraclete from the enthusiastic power of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes as both presence and power, and often we emphasize power. We can long for the power of Pentecost, when the Spirit sounded like a rushing wind, looked like a blazing fire, and converted three thousand people in a single day. Yet those three thousand converts and every individual member in the body of Christ also need the Spirit as a presence who prompts quiet acts of friendship, forgiveness, and encouragement. I think of the Lord speaking to Ananias in a vision and telling him to visit a man named Saul; “for behold he is praying.” (Acts 9:11). At that time Saul, whom we know as Paul, did not need the Spirit coming with power like dynamite. Instead, Paul, the blinded persecutor, needed the Paraclete in the form of Ananias laying hands on him and saying “Brother Saul.” (Acts 9:17).

When Jesus teaches me to receive the Holy Spirit as Paraclete “something like scales” fall from my eyes. (Acts 9:18) A face that comes to mind may be a vision from God calling me to kindness. Countless unreported acts of compassion may be, in the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the Holy Spirit brooding over our bent word “with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.” (from God’s Grandeur)

Joel Kok