Filling in the Holy Spirit

Today we went to work at La Iglesia Espiritu Santo – the Church of the Holy Spirit – which was the very first church this mission group worked on when our trips to Honduras began. The church is growing right now: they’re seeing more young families with small children: and they’re considering ways they might expand. The church building has already grown a couple of times; in addition to the worship space, there are offices on a lower level, and a large room that can be rented out as a classroom or meeting space or wedding reception venue, and a terrace just above the river. This is all built into a hillside, so that the terrace is the lowest part, and you climb a long irregular stairway to move past the meeting room, the offices, and the church itself to street level. Original trippers love to point out the areas they worked on at the beginning, and how much has grown since then.

Part of the work we are doing on this trip is on that very lowest level, the terrace, where we are helping to enclose some space and make a new room. First, though, we had to move quite a lot of scrap wood out of the space. Nothing in Honduras is ever wasted; some of this wood could be used again for concrete forms or building simple things. So instead of discarding it, all the wood had to be carried up to the roof of the large meeting space, where it will be stored. Until it needs to be moved again, that is.

Moving the wood involved carrying it along the terrace, up part of the irregular steps, along a corridor formed by the space between the original church and the big meeting room, then up some temporary wooden steps to the roof. It was a surprisingly rabbit-warren-y route. And it gave me an insight into how church buildings like this grow, not according to a master plan, but as needs an opportunities and creative usages arise. We were part of that process long ago, and we’re taking on a new part of that process now.

But even as new bits are being added, the old bits need to be maintained. The interior of the worship space needed to be repainted, so a few of our team took up the brushes and buckets and long-handled rollers and got to work on the church walls. The work on the south wall, and the west wall, and the north wall went more easily than I’d expected, to tell the truth. But we were all a little daunted by the east wall.

The east wall has a marvelous mural of the Holy Spirit as a descending dove. You may have seen pictures of this dove in blog posts or sermon pages before this. It is part of the life of this place – and none of us painters wanted to be the one responsible for leaving a large drip of yellow paint running down the mural from a careless swipe of the roller!

Finally, though, after others had rolled all around the mural as carefully as possible, Tom Howell took a brush and delicately, painstakingly, filled in all the edges around the rays emanating from the dove. The end result was a perfectly preserved mural in the middle of a fresh and bright newly painted wall.

And while I appreciate very much Tom’s careful work, it occurred to me that in a way this is just the opposite of our theological understanding of the work of the real Holy Spirit in our lives. We were concerned about filling in the gaps around the Spirit. But usually it is the Spirit who fills in the gaps in us. It is when we want to pray but don’t know how that the Spirit breathes in and prays in us, in sighs too deep for words. It is when we know we ought to love, but do not feel ourselves able to make the caring gesture or say the loving word, that the Spirit moves within and empowers us to do what we could not on our own. It is when we try to connect with each other, to be more than just individuals but a body in communion, that the Spirit flows between us and weaves us into right-relationships and mutual well-being. So often it is not we who touch up the gaps around the Spirit, but the Spirit who mends the gaps within ourselves.

All of which makes this Spirit mural a symbol, I think, not just for the church building here outside Copan, but for the work we’ve come to share in this growing, serving, sharing mission place.