Saving Mary

Jack Levison on Beliefnet

Posted on by Deidre Havrelock



Just breathe. Because in the Bible, every breath you take is a gulp of God’s Spirit. So take time to breathe. Breathe often. Breathe deeply. Justbreathe. Jack Levison writes in his book Fresh Air: “I inhale and exhale divine Spirit-breath. I am, in short, Adam, which is simply the Hebrew word for ‘human being’ after all. Like the firstadam, I am a clot of dirt full of life and vigor, now that God has breathed into my face, into my nostrils, and I am able to explore my world, to till the ground, to be delighted in the companionship of another human.”


Live for the long haul

For three generations, the Spirit filled Daniel (of lion’s den fame) to the nth degree. Why? Because he lived simply, rejected ambition, and studied hard, even the foreign languages of his captors. Don’t go for the quick fix, the flashy experience. Live instead for the long haul. Levison writes in Fresh Air: “Daniel did not plan and plot to climb the ladder of success by knotting himself to the coterie of handsome, hunky Israelite men whose futures were bright with promise. The lesson is clear: the Spirit-breath of God pulses in people who opt for simplicity and humility rather than ambition and acquisition, people who choose simple veggies over lavish meals and fine wines.


Saturate yourself with scripture

Ever heard of Simeon, who knew the infant Jesus was the savior of the world? He lifted Mary’s son in his arms and described the baby’s global mission with the vivid words of the prophet Isaiah. Prepare yourself for inspiration by saturating yourself in scripture. “Experience of the Holy Spirit rises from regular devotion,” writes Levison, “with an eye toward that single significant moment when all that we have studied will come together, and we will recognize – perhaps just this once – the long-awaited yet unexpected salvation of God, as surprising as a Nazarene baby carried to the temple, two turtle doves in tow, by his peasant parents.”


Study Jesus

The early Christians didn’t just feel the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit taught them the truth about Jesus when they studied his words and actions in light of the Old Testament. So get started studying the gospels and get to know the scriptures – the Old Testament – Jesus knew so well. Levison writes in  Fresh Air:  “The church, I think, is like my distracted self – absorbed by all sorts of issues and crises that keep us from our focus. And what is our true focus? Understanding Jesus and interpreting his good life in light of the Old Testament. Inspiration took place when people recognized Jesus more deeply, more fully, because they saw him through the eyes of Israel’s great visionaries and writers.”


Lose control but with your brain intact

Some Christians love to lose control. Others love the life of the mind. The key is to hold both together – study and spontaneity, ecstasy and restraint, elation and intelligence. That rare and remarkable combination is the key to a Spirit-filled life. “If we intend to thrive in the twenty-first century,” writes Levison in  Fresh Air, “we should receive from the New Testament an invitation to a shared hallway in which all of us can walk. Perhaps there is still a glimmer of hope that those of us with drastically different experiences of the Holy Spirit can learn to embrace ecstasy, even if some of us lean toward chaos and others order.”


Live into pain and grief

In chronic pain and grief, Job learned that “in God’s hand is the life of every living thing, and the Spirit-breath of every human being” (Job 12:10). So don’t think of the Spirit only as an escape from pain or grief. Experience the Spirit ingrief and pain. “Inspirationsurvives among the cliffs of despair,” writes Levison. “It may be, in fact, that truth means the most in the heart of darkness rather than in spiritual spurts of mountaintop enthusiasm. It may be that praise means the most in the valley of the shadow of death, where grief stomps on our chest and makes it barely possible to breathe – and yet we breathe nonetheless”


Get connected

The Holy Spirit is alive in communities, not just individual Christians. That’s why this question occurs in the Bible: “Don’t y’all know y’all are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit is alive in y’all?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). Not just you – but all of you together. So get into a community and stay connected. “There we were, together, a white 12-year-old boy with an utter incapacity to sing the tenor line and an old black man with a voice that could inspire the angels,” writes Levison. “Together we were a community. Uncle Willie and me. Something more was going on between us than either of us could have mustered as individuals – the inability even to consider that age or race could keep us from being friends, for instance.”


Never count the Spirit out

Don’t play the Christian coroner and judge a church “dead.” Remember Ezekiel, in the valley of dry bones? Slowly – very slowly – brittle bones clatter and clank, sinews form, flesh grows, and bones pulse with life (Ezekiel 37). So never, ever, count the Holy Spirit out. Levison writes inFresh Air: “It is important, I think, never to resign ourselves to the belief that deadened communities are beyond the pale of the Spirit’s influence. Ezekiel’s community was reduced to very many, very dry bones bleached by the unrelenting desert sun. And it was there, precisely there, that the Spirit worked a dramatic work: the resurrection of a whole community.”


Break down barriers

The Spirit doesn’t come in dribs and drabs but in a rush, a torrent, a lavish downpour of blessing on all flesh, onevery human being,anywhere. So abandon borders. Break barriers down every chance you get. Levison writes in  Fresh Air:“Supporting organizations such as World Vision may not feel like a work of the Spirit, especially if we view this work in personal terms. We may not feel elated or euphoric or jubilant. Yet the work of the Spirit isn’t just personal … the Spirit is not just inpoured – poured in – into  individuals; the Spirit is outpoured – poured out –over societies.”


Go where the going gets tough

The Holy Spirit may descend on us lovingly, like a dove, but the Spirit then throws us out into the hostile desert, where we struggle to stay faithful. This happened to Jesus, and it’s an essential step in your Spirit-filled life. The Bible tells us: “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness,” observes Levison in Fresh Air: “The Holy Spirit drives Jesus out in the same way that Jesus would drive out demons, would drive out leprosy, would drive out the money changers from the temple precincts. The gentleness of a dove following Jesus’ baptism has been left in the dust by the violent force of the Spirit.”


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