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The Holy Spirit as the Mind of God

Drew Dixon | April 5, 2016

The Holy Spirit has lacked widespread attention. Historically, a robust pneumatology was not

developed until after the Christological controversies of the third and early fourth centuries.

Theologically, Veli-Matti Karkkainen explains that Pneumatology has often not received its own place

in systematic theologies, but rather been collapsed into the doctrine of salvation or the church.1

Liturgically, Simon Chan claims, The Western tradition has suffered from a pneumatological deficit

and lost its sense of the continuation of the gospel into ecclesiology and pneumatology.2 Apart from

the pneumatological renaissance3 of the charismatic movement, thought and practice regarding the

Holy Spirit has remained relatively sparse.

In his survey of the Spirit throughout scripture, Karkkainen explains, The Bible presents no

systematized outline of the work of the Spirit, but rather teaches about the Spirit through symbols

and stories.4 Thus, there is precedence for imaginatively making sense of the Spirit through present

categories of experience and knowledge. In this paper I will apply categories from recent studies in

neuroscience, attachment theory, and trauma therapy in order to stoke our imagination toward an

understanding of the Holy Spirit as the mind of God which attunes to Gods people in order to bring about healing,

restoration, and wholeness.

The Mind as a Theological Metaphor

As early as the fourth century, Augustine of Hippo was looking inward with Platonic categories

of the soul to find a metaphor for understanding God, These three things are in you, which you can

1 Veli-Matti Karkkainen, Pneumatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 19.
2 Simon Chan, Liturgical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 32, 36.
3 Karkkainen, Pneumatology, 11.
4 Ibid., 23.

number but cannot separatememory, understanding, and will.5 The science of today looks inward

not to the soul, but rather to the mind through psychology and neuroscience.

The mind in science, like the Spirit in theology, is a deeply subjective and mysterious object of

inquiry. Psychiatrist Daniel Siegel chooses to honor the inherent mystery of the mind, he also

respectfully attempts a definition of it: the mind is an embodied and relational process that

regulates the flow of energy and information.6

Siegel wrestles with the mystery of the minds essence. On the one hand, the mind is embodied

within the brain as a network of energy connections between neurons, yet on the other hand it is the

intangible mysterious source of our subjective inner life.7 This is similar to the way the Eastern

Orthodox theologian Kallistos Ware describes the mystery of God as a tension between the essence,

nature, or inner being of God, on the one hand, and his energies, operations, or acts of power, on the

other.8 The essence of God is the intangible mystery of Gods being, while the energy of God is the

part of God we tangibly experience through creation and the Church.

Siegel further explains his definition by distinguishing between mind, brain, and relationships

as three aspects of energy and information flow. He elaborates that these are not three separate

elements but rather three aspects of one reality.9 Ware similarly expounds upon God, Father, Son,

and Spirit are one in essence, not merely in the sense that all three are examples of the same group or

general class, but in the sense that they form a single, unique, specific reality.10 The functioning of

the mind is an illuminating image to draw from as we meditate on the mystery of God.

5 Christopher A. Hall, Learning Theology with the Church Fathers (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 79.
6 Daniel J. Siegel, The Developing Mind, 2nd ed. (New York: The Guilford Press, 2015), 2.
7 Ibid., 1.
8 Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimirs Seminary Press, 1979), 22.
9 Siegel, The Developing Mind, 7.
10 Ware, The Orthodox Way, 30.

Crucial to Siegels understanding of the mind is its relational nature. Attachment

relationships, according to Siegel, may serve to create the central foundation from which the mind

develops.11 Attachment is the way psychologists refer to emotional connection within relationships.

A positive connection is referred to as a secure attachment, whereas a negative one is insecure. Secure

attachments establish a safe haven and a secure base through emotional accessibility and

responsiveness.12 Siegel refers to this as affect attunement.13 Thus, for Siegel, secure attachments

are established through attunement, which he describes as the resonance of energy and information

between two people.14 Attunement is achieved when two peoples minds are in tune with one another

and form a resonant harmony together.

This attunement, however, is not always attainable. In the best cases, a break in attunement

can be a healthy sign of autonomy15; in most cases, rupture in attunement is caused by simple

distractions or misunderstandings16; in the worst cases, it is the result of trauma which can pose lasting

emotional disconnection.17 Repeated rupture, especially at an early age, can lead to the formation of

insecure attachments, which would be more severe among traumatized individuals. In each case there

is hope for repair, which we will return to later.

Spirit as the Mind of God

With these categories of the mind from neuroscience and attachment theory, we will now

consider a bible passage in which Paul describes the activity of the Holy Spirit among believers:

the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being
knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one
comprehends what is truly Gods except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not

11 Siegel, The Developing Mind, 92.

12 Susan M. Johnson, Introduction to Attachment, in Attachment Processes in Couple and Family Therapy, ed.
Susan M. Johnson and Valerie E. Whiffen (New York: The Guilford Press, 2003), 5-6.
13 Siegel, The Developing Mind, 94.
14 Ibid., 95.
15 Ibid., 95.
16 Ibid., 314.
17 Ibid., 113.

the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the
gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by
human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are
spiritual. For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we
have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:10b-13, 16, NRSV)

There are at least three points in this passage which illuminate our understanding of the Holy Spirit

within the Trinity and also within the Church.

First, The Spirit searches the depths of God. The Spirit knows the depths of God in the

same way that self-awareness exists in our minds. We might rephrase Siegels definition of the mind

into a description of the Spirit this way: The Spirit is a manifested and relational presence that regulates the flow

of power and revelation.18 Each part of this description is displayed in the Pentecost scene when the Spirit

manifested in fire, empowered disciples to speak in tongues, revealed through Peters sermon, and brought

three thousand souls into relation with God and one another.

Second, We have received the Spirit that is from God. The Spirit does not only know God,

but also comes to us. In coming to us, the Holy Spirit becomes both available and responsive in an

act of divine attunement. In a perfect world, this would establish each person in a secure attachment with

God. But, as most theology is quick to remind us, the world is far from perfect. Ware describes the

world after sin as divided upon itself.19 Through sin, there has been a rupture in attunement, and,

because of this rupture, we have developed insecure attachments with God and others.

Third, We speak spiritual things to those who are spiritual. Experience of the Holy Spirit is

not in solitude but with and through one another. In an article on this passage, Simo Frestadius

explains, the Spirit is not only the one who knows and reveals divine wisdom, but is also the one who

essentially communicates it through human agency.20 The Spirit acts through the people of God, yet,

18 This definition rings in tune with 2 Timothy 1:7 which exclaims that God has given a Spirit of power, love,
and a sound mind.
19 Ware, The Orthodox Way, 59.
20 Simo Frestadius, The Spirit and Wisdom in 1 Corinthians 2:1-13, Journal of Biblical and Pneumatological

Research 3 (September 2011): 69.

as was the case in the Corinthian church to whom this passage is addressed, rupture can also be

brought about the people of God when they are divided among themselves.

If the Spirit is the mind of God and our attunement with the Spirit has been ruptured, how

can this rupture be repaired? Siegel explains, Repair is an interactive process in which the rupture is

recognized, reconnection is established, and attunement and resonance are experienced as a soothing

process that enables the relationship to continue on a supportive path.21 We will now explore this

attunement, its repair, and how it makes a way toward healing, restoration, and wholeness.

Attunement and the People of God

What does Gods attunement to Gods people look like? Two initial problems rise from this

question as we look to the interactive experience of the Church. Each having to do with the dynamics

of one and many, or unity and diversity.

First, how can one Spirit attune to many people? Attachment theory and Siegels notion of

attunement are formed around the dynamic of two individuals, yet the Church is not two individuals

but rather the triunity of God and the community of Gods people. German theologian, Jurgen

Moltmann addresses this problem when he writes, The Holy Spirit always descends on the whole

congregation, and cannot be claimed by anyone as his or her possession. 22 What is abnormal for an

individualto be simultaneously attuned to many others at onceis absolutely normal for God. This

is, in fact, the primary way that God relates to Gods people: through, in, and among community.

Moltmann goes on to say, Every community has a common spirit If we see the fellowship of the

Spirit in this way, then the Spirit animates the common life of believers, but the individuals are not

shaped by the Spirit as independent persons only as members.23 This is what it means to become

the Churchto truly become a communityas in the early Church in the days after Pentecost when

21 Siegel, The Developing Mind, 314.

22 Jurgen Moltmann, The Source of Life (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1997), 57.
23 Ibid., 91.

all who believed were together and had all things in common (Acts 2:44, NRSV) and the whole

group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of

any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common (Acts 4:32, NRSV). As the Church

is filled with the Spirit of God, the many act as one.

Second, why does one Spirit manifest in many ways? Karkkainen presents this problem, Even

though there is only one Spirit of God, the differing emphases and needs of particular churches and

traditions have created a rich treasure of spiritual experiences.24 He goes on to explore different

expressions of the Holy Spirit, ranging from the Spirit-sensitive Eastern Orthodox tradition to the

Spirit-sensational Pentecostal tradition and others in between. The rigid liturgy of one tradition next

to the rigorous ecstasy of another hardly seems like many acting as one. Yet, here too Moltmann

speaks, In the community of Christs people there is unity only in diversity, not in uniformity. It is

only the complex diversity of gifts and energies which makes a living viable unity possible. 25 For

Moltmann, this diversity of manifestation is a sign of unity rather than disunity. Disparity which causes

division is a sign of discord, but diversity expressed within unity is a sign of harmony. When God and

Gods people are attuned, the Spirit and the Church are in tune with one another and form a

resonant harmony together. In the same letter our earlier passage came from, Paul addresses a

church walking the line between division and diversity, Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same

Spirit To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:4,

7, NRSV). As the Spirit of God attunes to the Church, the One manifests as many.

Trauma and Holistic Healing

The Holy Spirit is the mind of God which attunes to Gods people through unifying diversity.

How can this attunement bring about repair? For this, we look to trauma studies and therapy to

24 Karkkainen, Pneumatology, 67.

25 Moltmann, The Source of Life, 59.

understand how the Holy Spirit brings about healing. Psychiatrist Judith Herman describes trauma as

an affliction of the powerless in which the victim is rendered helpless by overwhelming the

ordinary systems of care that give people a sense of control, connection, and meaning.26 This

helplessness is similar to what Wares description of living in a fallen world, all too often, we find

ourselves morally paralyzed: we sincerely desire to choose the good, but we find ourselves caught in a

situation where all our choices result in evil.27 Psychologist Peter Levine describes this traumatic

helplessness as being left in the sheer hell realm of trauma, paralyzed with terror, while experiencing

eruptions of blind rage yet devoid of the sustained energy to act.28 Trauma evokes a state in which a

person is internally hyperactivated yet externally unable to act, fixing that person in a mental prison of

torture. How is one set free from such a prison?

Herman explains that because the core experiences of psychological trauma are

disempowerment and disconnection from others recovery must be based on the empowerment of

the survivor and the creation of new connections.29 Recovery takes place within the context of a

healing relationship in three stages: the establishment of safety; remembrance and mourning; and

reconnection with ordinary life. These three stages find many connections not only with the activity

of the Holy Spirit, but also with the liturgy of the Church in which the Gathering acts as an

establishment of safety, the Word and Sacrament provide a space for remembering and mourning, and

the Sending is a reconnection with ordinary life.30

The first stage, the establishment of safety, is essentially the attuning act of repair which Siegel

explains. Communally, through the liturgy of the Church, and personally, through unique spiritual

manifestations, we find the Spirit to be a safe haven and secure base which provides the

26 Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery (New York: BasicBooks, 1997), 33.
27 Ware, The Orthodox Way, 61.
28 Peter A. Levine, Trauma and Memory (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2015), 46.
29 Herman, Trauma and Recovery, 133.
30 Chan, Liturgical Theology, 129-130.

beginnings of a new secure attachment. A safe context in community with the people of God and the

Spirit of God provides the possibility for further healing.

The second stage, remembrance and mourning, is the place where traumatic memory is

transformed and a traumatized individual begins the path toward healing. Herman describes the role

of the therapist in this stage as witness and ally, in whose presence the survivor can speak of the

unspeakable.31 Herman warns that the therapist must not provide ready-made answers, but rather

share the emotional burden of the trauma.32 This kind of burden-sharing is found not primarily in

verbal assent, but through nonverbal attunement. Theologian Shelly Rambo writes about traumatized

individuals, Witnessing what cannot be contained within speech, they demonstrate a unique

relationship to language This is why the language of the Spiritis too deep for words and is

therefore expressed more fittingly through sighs and groans. The language of the Spirit is the language

of witness.33 Moltmann writes that the Spirit accompanies us and shares our suffering.34 The Spirit

joins us in our trauma as the witness and ally that Herman describes. Through prayer, worship,

confession, community, and song we remember and mourn our pain.

In the liturgical acts of the Church, our traumatic memory undergoes transformation. Herman

declares, The fundamental premise of the psychotherapeutic work is a belief in the restorative power

of truth-telling. In the telling, the trauma story becomes a testimony.35 This brings to mind not only

the Spirit as the one who will guide us into all the truth (John 16:33, NRSV), but also the great

heavenly liturgy in Revelation in which it is sung of the martyrs, They have conquered [the accuser]

by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony! (Revelation 12:11, NRSV)

Remembering and mourning our trauma in solidarity with the trauma of the cross makes way for

31 Herman, Trauma and Recovery, 175.

32 Ibid., 178-179.
33 Shelly Rambo, Spirit and Trauma, (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 120.
34 Moltmann, The Source of Life, 90.
35 Herman, Trauma and Recovery, 181.

transformation. This is seen most clearly in the sacrament of the Eucharist wherein the Spirit meets

the people of God amidst the trauma of a broken body and shed blood.36 Chan describes, In the

Eucharistic worship of the church the Spirit actualizes the past through remembrance and anticipates

the future.37 Thus, the Church is freed from the paralysis of trauma and set free into a future of hope.

In the third stage, reconnection with ordinary life, Herman describes the trauma survivor as

ready to take concrete steps to increase her sense of power and control.38 Herman explains these

steps as reconnection with oneself, with others, and sometimes also taking up a mission to the wider

world. Even though the survivor is now leaving the therapy office and reentering the world, Herman

warns, Resolution of the trauma is never final; recovery is never complete. The impact of a traumatic

event continues to reverberate throughout the survivors lifecycle.39 Such an already-but-not-yet

tension is also present in the activity of the Spirit and also in the liturgy of the Church. Chan describes

the liturgy as a journey from this world to the heavenly kingdom and back to this world.40 He bases

the liturgy upon the disciples experience on the Mount of Ascension, It is from there that the mission

of the church begins; from there that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to constitute the church as his Spirit-

filled body; from there that, after being given spiritual food, the church returns to the worldto love

and serve the Lord.41 Indeed, the Church is sent from its liturgy as transformed trauma survivors

with a mission to continue that transformation to the wider world.

One final observation must be made regarding the Spirits act of healing trauma within the

Church. Not all worship is in the head and not all trauma is in the heart. The Pentecostal tradition

reminds us that manifestations of the Holy Spirit can be bodily and physical. Rambo, summarizing

36 Chan, Liturgical Theology, 73.

37 Ibid., 37.
38 Herman, Trauma and Recovery, 197.
39 Ibid., 211.
40 Chan, Liturgical Theology, 83.
41 Ibid., 83.

Catherine Keller, writes, Spirit is connected to matter, not separate from it. Spirit moves in bodies,

flesh, and breath.42 Some manifestations in charismatic worship include physical trembling and

sensations of warmth. Pentecostal theologian Amos Yong writes, There is no question that God

meets human beings in remarkable and inexplicable ways by touching and curing infirm bodies. 43

Such physical manifestations are astounding to begin with, but what it even more intriguing is its

similarity with some physical trauma therapies. Levine describes one of his patients experiences during

a session, He expired some abrupt shudders in his neck and shoulder, and then a softer trembling in

his legs He also reported an uncomfortable and intense burning hat that emanated from the tops

of his shoulders.44 The charismatic experience would suggest that the Spirit not only attunes to our

emotional trauma, but also our physical trauma to bring about holistic healing.


Ancient elemental images of wind, water, and fire have aided our thoughts and imaginations

regarding the identity and activity of the Holy Spirit. Modern research in neuroscience, attachment

theory, and trauma therapy can also aid our imagination. With these categories we can conceptualize

the Holy Spirit as the mind of God which attunes to Gods people in order to bring about healing,

restoration, and wholeness. As the Spirit acts in the liturgy of the Church, the diverse people of God

are drawn into a unity which can heal both emotional and physical traumas. When we gather together

as the people of God, may we attune ourselves to the Spirit and never cease the prayer of the epiclesis:

Come, Holy Spirit, Come!

42 Rambo, Spirit and Trauma, 122.

43 Amos Yong and Jonathan A. Anderson, Renewing Christian Theology (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press,
2014), 215.
44 Levine, Trauma and Memory, 57.


Chan, Simon. Liturgical Theology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006.

Frestadius, Simo. The Spirit and Wisdom in 1 Corinthians 2:1-13. Journal of Biblical and

Pneumatological Research 3 (September 2011): 5270.

Hall, Christopher A. Learning Theology with the Church Fathers. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press,


Herman, Judith. Trauma and Recovery. New York: BasicBooks, 1997.

Johnson, Susan M. Introduction to Attachment. In Attachment Processes in Couple and Family Therapy,

edited by Susan M. Johnson and Valerie E. Whiffen, 317. New York: The Guilford Press,


Karkkainen, Veli-Matti. Pneumatology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

Levine, Peter A. Trauma and Memory. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2015.

Moltmann, Jurgen. The Source of Life. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1997.

Rambo, Shelly. Spirit and Trauma. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010.

Siegel, Daniel J. The Developing Mind. 2nd ed. New York: The Guilford Press, 2015.

Ware, Kallistos. The Orthodox Way. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimirs Seminary Press, 1979.

Yong, Amos, and Jonathan A. Anderson. Renewing Christian Theology. Waco, TX: Baylor University

Press, 2014.


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