Orthodox Christians, all things being equal and normal, do experience the presence of the Holy Spirit; as St. Paul says, He is "shed abroad in our hearts." But the Holy Spirit is not known by the senses, hence, not by the mind. That makes it extremely difficult (probably impossible) to convey in words what that knowledge is, for words are artifacts and expressions of the mind. You can employ the mind to try to make cognitive meaning of it, but that cognitive meaning will be like looking into a dim mirror; the unspeakable, but perfectly well-known meaning will be far deeper than the words or thoughts you use. Apophatic language, therefore, will probably suit the purpose best, saying what experience of the Holy Spirit is not instead of what it ineffably is.
So then, besides not being a sensory experience, not an experience of the mind, the visitation by the Holy Spirit is also not an emotional experience. I do not mean it will leave the emotions unaffected, but to focus upon the accompanying emotions at all is to descend from the heights, is to turn it into something ugly, a consumer experience. Emotions in themselves, like thoughts in themselves, are carnal. The Holy Spirit will engage us at a much deeper, noetic level, not involving, for example, clapping, stomping, and swaying. There is a certain, marked sobriety about Orthodox encounters with the Holy Spirit.
We do not experience the Holy Spirit primarily as in "my heart" and "your heart" although He is that, too, and we recognize Him in one another as well as in ourselves. But do we not know His presence most keenly when we are together, and especially when we are worshipping Him, and most of all during the Divine Liturgy?
This does not mean that when we are in a group, we experience the Holy Spirit as another member of the group, as One among many. He is never "One among many" not only because He is absolutely unique but because He does not reveal Himself as a discreet entity.
So does He reveal Himself as the collectivity of all of, then? No, He is infinitely more than all of us put together.
Is He the love between us, when we feel it flowing most intensely? Wellll... Love He indeed is, for God is Love. Yet He Himself is a Person, and it would be very wrong to think of Him, as the filioquists do, as a function of other persons, as in the love between them. He is a Person and NOT a function! (Not a function at all, not even a function who is also a Person -- an idea, that like this cube, is an impossibility except on paper, or in words.)
The experience of the Holy Spirit is not a form of mass hysteria or a product of group psychology. We encounter something, or rather Someone, far above anything like that.
It would also be wrong to suppose He is mere love such as any pagan group can share. The Divine Love is sui generis, a class by itself, completely different from any other Love.
Furthermore, we often become aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit before we start sensing the love, as such, in the room.
So what the experience of the Holy Spirit exactly is, perhaps no one can say. (Or perhaps someone has of whom I am ignorant?)
Let's compare notes.
Monday, January 28, 2008