I can think of three ways that spiritual power moves — there may be others, but three will do for the moment. We’re going to look at them one by one over three weeks. Next week we’ll be thinking about the principle of cauldron energy — how power moves in circles, or spirals, nurturing and accumulating power. The week after that we’ll think about the principle of sword energy — how power can move in a sudden shaft, cutting through.
But for this week, let’s look at the principle of bellows energy — how power moves in a combination of opposition and conjunction; two halves working together.
Nature is in God and God is in nature. It isn’t helpful to speak of the working of the Holy Spirit as supernatural. The way of faith is natural, because nature comes from God. Nature is God singing.
The psalmist speaks of the life of creation like God breathing in and out, saying (Psalm 104.29-30),
“When you hide your face,
they are terrified;
when you take away their breath,
they die and return to the dust.
When you send your Spirit,
they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground..”
This is bellows energy — breathing in, breathing out. Opposing forces working in conjunction.
Life is made up of balancing pairs: a bird needs both wings to fly. If you keep hens and don’t want your birds to roost in the trees, all you need to do it trim the wing-feather tips on one side, and it cannot fly.
The blood moves in our vascular system through a balancing pattern of arteries and veins.
Our depth vision comes from having two eyes working together.
Our bodies come in the first place from the conjoining of the male and female principles balancing humanity and expressing the wholeness of God in nature, the power of life.
Our bodies develop by dividing, the emergence of balancing pairs — like the brain and the gut that develop as a balancing pair joined by the vagus nerve, or the skin microbiome that balances with the microbiome in the lumen of the gut; the outer and the inner.
This is the bellows principle, two aspects working in conjunction and opposition to express power.
There is an invisible dimension to it as well — it is not only physical.
You can observe the bellows principle in scattering and gathering, in dismembering and remembering; and we touch this mystery in our Eucharist, as we think of the body of Christ broken on the cross and gathered together in the people of God, symbolised in the bread which is gathered together in one loaf from the grain that was scattered on the hillside, and fell into the ground and died to produce a harvest.
At Ascensiontide, when we think of Jesus leaving Earth to return to Heaven, we also touch the mystery of separation and belonging, of losing and finding, of embracing and parting. This is the bellows principle of the working of spiritual power.
The Ascension of Jesus into Heaven is like the opening of the highway for our souls. It is the second half, the completion of a balancing pair. At the Incarnation, he came down, and made a way into human being. Then at the Ascension he travels upward, taking humanity up into divine being. He creates the new and living way that knits together heaven and earth. And next week we’ll be looking at how he opens that new and living way, for us.
So, though we may think of the Ascension of Jesus as being about leaving, separating, parting, losing, saying goodbye, being on your own now — when we touch the mystery and feel it, we begin to see that it is also about joining up, connecting, reconciling, restoring, embracing, saying hello, never having to be on your own again.
As Jesus put it. “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it..” (Matt 16.25)
This is the secret to living without fear, having the freedom to love. You do not need to grasp or cling, to clutch tightly, afraid of what you may lose or of being lost yourself. It isn’t like that. There is birth and there is death, but life is eternal, life goes on breathing in and breathing out. Always breathing in and never out isn’t useful, it’s an asthma attack. Problems arise where things accumulate. We make peace with reality when we learn not only to hold on but also to let go.
And in the times we are currently passing through, this lesson is essential. We are letting go of the old — which brings both uncertainty and grief, it is uncomfortable; but it is necessary to make way for the new.
And this is the mystery of the Ascension.