The hymn that I chose from Sing Praise for Friday was “Enemy of Apathy” by John Bell and Graham Maule. I’ve been away from the computer for a couple of days which is why I’m only commenting on it now. But it was one of the hymns sung by our music group in church this morning, for Pentecost Sunday itself.
The hymn covers several aspects of the role of the Holy Spirit as found in the Bible, reimagined in poetic language. The Spirit is here referred to as female throughout, maybe as a deliberate balance to the tendency to address God in general or the Spirit in particular by male pronouns, though of course God is neither, yet more than both.
The feminine character of God is perhaps particularly appropriate to emphasise in the Creation story (verse 1) where the imagery used by the composers is that of birthing: the Spirit is “’like a bird, brooding on the waters … mothering creation, waiting to give birth to all the Word will say’. Here we see the partnership between God the Creator (the divine act of will), God the Word (the divine act of communication) and God the Spirit (the divine power of action). I love the phrase ‘she sighs and she sings’, expressing perhaps the joy of seeing God’s will being done with as well as the frustration we equally feel when we long for God to act and it seems s/he is delaying action.
The second verse sees this spiritual bird in a more active role, ‘winging over earth, resting where she wishes, lighting close at hand or soaring through the skies. Sometimes the Spirit’s way of working is personal and intimate as one person is brought closer to God, and sometimes visible and dramatic, as when a nationwide revival happens. The birthing imagery is repeated but in terms of human reproduction, as she ‘nests in each womb, welcoming each wonder, nourishing potential hidden to our eyes’. Without wishing to get drawing into a pro-life / pro-choice argument, we must recognise that God must know each developing embryo as intimately as any child or adult who is consciously aware of God.
The third verse brings us to the feast of Pentecost itself. The spirit here ‘dances in fire, startling her spectators, waking tongues of ecstasy where dumbness reigned’. How wonderful it must have been to witness that day, when the Spirit appeared in a form that Luke (or those witnesses whose evidence he heard) must have struggled to express in meaningful ways to others. But her work was not completed then, rather it lives on as ‘she weans and inspires all whose hearts are open’.
Finally we are reminded in verse four that, as we will consider on Trinity Sunday next week, there are not three gods but ‘one God in essence’. The creator, the saviour, the spirit all express God’s love. The final line gives the hymn its title: ‘enemy of apathy and heavenly dove’. Apathy is usually defined in its literal sense of not feeling emotion, or in common usage as ‘not being bothered’ about something. Here it is probably used to mean a reluctance to join in with God’s work of creation and redemption. Those who are filled with the Spirit want nothing more than to be the channels of God’s ceaseless activity.