By Jennifer Harris
Word&Way News Writer
ATLANTA — Seminary president Molly Marshall urged Baptists to recognize the Holy Spirit as “God’s nearness to us.”
“The Holy Spirit is God’s means of formally indwelling us. And the Holy Spirit is our means of communion with Christ and access to God. So when I speak about the Spirit of the Lord, obviously I’m going to talk in a Trinitarian context,” said Marshall, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kan.
Marshall was joined by Joyce Bellous, a professor at McMasters Divinity College in Ontario, Canada, in leading an afternoon session Jan 31 on the Holy Spirit during the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant in Atlanta.
“We must cultivate a way to hone the soul through a set of practices,” Marshall said. “We must be intentional about nurturing our capacity for the sacred. Christian spirituality is both grace and effort.”
She suggested seven such practices:
“Silence and solitude are helpful pursuits that we might learn to listen,” Marshall said. “We need to pay attention to the ways the Spirit of God will move within us and toward us.”
Christians must learn to sift, to discriminate, so they might know where God is moving them, Marshall said. True discernment is hard, because feelings can elude us, she said. Learning to discern requires trust and asking hard questions.
Marshall noted that one key question to ask is “does what I am considering create more faith, more hope and more love?”
The Latin term for “eating the bread of the word” is a practice of meditating on Scripture.
“If we do not know how to pray, Scripture gives us the words. If we don’t know words of grief, Scripture gives us words of lament. Spirit guides our reading of Scripture,” said Marshall.
“It is the practice where the Spirit bears witness with our spirits. This is God’s word for us.”
Being companions with one another
“The spiritual life is to be undertaken in community — it is personal, but not private,” said Marshall. The Spirit is always drawing us to one another — and through one another — to God, she stated.
Sabbath is an invitation to balance the claims of work and celebration, to practice a different rhythm and to practice humility as if the whole world is not dependent on you, Marshall said.
Care of the body
“The means by which the Spirit is upon us is the embodied particularity that we are,” said Marshall, admitting that many Baptists are all too familiar with the buffet line. Our bodies are instruments of grace throughout the world. God takes bodies very seriously, that’s what the resurrection teaches us, she added.
Participation in community
John Wesley, founder of Methodism, said nobody can be a Christian alone and he was right, Marshall said. When Christians worship and gather together, they are participating as an instrument for the Spirit.
Bellous suggested Christians need to allow their concepts of God to grow up. She shared that when she was a child, she was not allowed to dance but loved it. She would run home from school dances, sure that “Jesus was coming today and was going to catch me on the way home,” Bellous said. “Jesus had long white hair and a beard, peering at me like ‘I’m waiting to catch you.’”
Later, she turned to God, worn out from living different lives — the life at church and the life at school. She told God that she wanted to be His all the time. At that moment, her image of the white-bearded God changed, and she realized that God was smiling at her, not waiting to “catch her.”
Bellous said the Spirit draws us through obedience, as well. “I am not someone who obeys God easily,” she said. “I rejoice in the fact that I do not easily obey God.”
Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant
Watch videos of New Baptist Covenant speakers
Opinion: The beginning of a movement?
Opinion: Layers of healing at the New Baptist Covenant
Covenant organizers close gathering with determination but few specifics