Prayer and the Temple of the Holy Ghost

“God is replenishingly everywhere; but most contractedly and workingly in the temple. Since then every rectified man is the temple of the Holy Ghost, when he prays; it is the Holy Ghost itself that prays; and what can be denied where the asker gives? He plays with us, as children, shows us pleasing things, that we may cry for them and have them. ‘Before we call, he answers and when we speak he hears:’ So Isaiah 65:24.

John Donne, Sermon on Luke 23:34 in Selections from Divine Poems, Sermons, and Prayers (New York and Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1990), p. 189.

It is a common paradox in Christian theology. God is everywhere, and yet God’s presence can be localized and come into focus in any one of a number of places: the Temple, the neighbor, the poor, the gathered People, and–above all–the Christ, who is in all of these other places and persons.

Donne focuses on the notion that the “rectified man” (we would say “person”) is the temple of the Holy Ghost. Even though a more accurate exegesis of the Pauline notion might point out that it is the People as such who are the Temple of the Spirit, each one of us is indwelt by this Spirit as interdependent members of the Body, an organic reality whose tendrils may well extend beyond the confines of the visible Church, since the Spirit of the Lord has been poured out on all flesh.

Donne goes on to consider the implications of the Spirit’s presence within us for petitionary prayer. No passage in the Gospel presents more enormous pastoral and spiritual difficulties than those in which our Lord implies that God will always answer prayer. For Donne, true prayer is always answered because the Asker and the Giver are one and the same. In other words, God always answers prayer, because true prayer is the work of the Holy Spirit within us, having become our very own prayer, uttered in our own true voice.

Now the cry of our heart may first arise in a variety of askings, some of which may even contradict each other. But if we persist in prayer, and are bold enough to cry out in rage and lamentation if need be, we discover the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit, whose Temple we are. And we are plunged into the abundance of a God who knows us and loves us, and find acceptance and blessing and courage to labor on.

The Rev. Bill Carroll serves as Rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. His parish blog is at here.

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