Most of us say that we just don't know how to understand the Holy Spirit, and this is why we struggle at moments of the Spirit's undeniable presence. We do not understand what is going on, and so we do not know what to say. What words do we have in our language that would ever do justice to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit?
But this is our failing, for we do not need words for the Spirit, but only language.
This is a difficult concept for those living in a postmodern world, where words are the very construct of all that we know and experience. Language and words seem so much the same thing, so intimately intertwined that we do not understand how one could possibly be different from the other. This, we wrestle with even when we know that something ridiculous like 90% of all that we say is communicated non-verbally - beyond words. And it is here that the Holy Spirit also speaks.
See, Jesus is the Word; the Holy Spirit, well, He is something quite different. The Scriptures tell us that the Spirit intervenes for us with grunts and groans.
It's easy for us to write this off as a nice mystery, but one that we will never understand. Who can possibly comprehend a language so garbled as grunts and groans? Yet we must be reminded that this is not some mysterious uttering; it is our native language.
As babes, this is all that we do. We grunt and groan. We cry and fuss. We coo and garble. It's all we've got. And you know what? Most of the time, it gets us exactly what we need. Those around us learn to understand what we are asking for, and we do it so inherently, so first-nature. A baby's cry will change depending on whether she is hungry, sleepy, in pain, in need of a fresh diaper, feeling alone. And it takes not long being around this little one to be able to determine the difference in her cries.
Then she grows up, we teach her some words, and she spends the rest of her life struggling to be understood.
This is the testimony of the Holy Spirit in our lives, as well. It speaks for us in grunts and groans, which are our first language. All these words we've come to know have messed it all up. And we've spent so much time trying to understand the Word that we've forgotten how to grunt and groan at all, as though the Word makes us more sophisticated somehow than the more primal expressions of our very souls.
But just as the Spirit gave us the Word, so the Word gave back to us the Spirit. We learned, in just a few short Gospels, how to speak the Word of the Lord, but when He returned to prepare a place for us, He left in His place the grunting and groaning once more. Most of us simply never bothered to learn it.
So we say that we cannot understand the Spirit at all, that He intercedes for us with a language we can never know. But we did know it. Once upon a time, we did. And it is incumbent upon us to learn it once more.
What if we did? What if we all learned to speak the language of the Holy Spirit, not just in our own lives but in the lives of others? What if we used that ridiculously high percentage of our communication that is beyond words to be present with one another in grunting and groaning?
There is still a difference in our cry depending upon our need. Our grunting and groaning is different if we are hungry, sleepy, in pain, dirty, feeling alone. And our greatest theologies so often tell us to put words to it, to put the Word to it if we desire something, if we need something, if we ache for something. But the Word is only one of three; the Spirit is there, too. He grunts and groans, cries and fusses, coos and garbles. And we would do well to learn again to speak His language.
It should not be that we do not understand this Spirit. No, we should understand Him quite well. Rather, our difficulty is that He exists in a place beyond words, and here, we have forgotten how to speak.