From Be Thou My Breastplate, by Paul Wallis
May the Holy Spirit dwell in this heart. (Fursa’s Breastplate)
The son of God taught us saying: “If you love me, keep my commandments and I will pray the father that he may give you another comforter, the Spirit of truth, who will remain with you forever.”
From these words it follows that, when I pray for the Holy Spirit to dwell in my heart, I am joining my prayer with that of Christ himself. The Lord gives just one condition for my part: that I love him and keep his commandments. This may sound like two conditions but, as the Gospels make clear, the two conditions are truly one and the same.
How then can I know if this prayer has been answered? What evidence can I expect? Holy Scripture makes many references to the signs of the Spirit’s presence deep within their heart of spirit. In other words the believer will feel it inside. These promises were written to the first Christians in Rome.
With his presence the Holy Spirit brings a peace that surpasses understanding, a love that is beyond knowledge and an indescribably joy. Again, this is a knowledge in the emotive heart of the believer – meaning that joy, peace, and love are all things that we feel. The Apostles Peter and Paul declared this to the Christians in Philippi and all Asia Minor.
To the believers in Galatia, Corinth, and Rome the Apostle Paul promises that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit will turn our hearts to goodness, kindness, gentleness, and self-control, and imparts to us spiritual knowledge, wisdom, healing, and discernment and groans of prayer that words cannot express. In other words, there are more outward evidences, too.
When Fursa offers his heart as a residence for the Holy Spirit he is not thinking of a presence far beyond the realm of sight and touch. In true Celtic fashion he is expecting the heavenly world to have a material effect on the physical world of his senses.
He therefore expects to feel that joy and peace in his heart. He expects to speak and hear such words of wisdom and knowledge. He expects to impart healing to suffering bodies and tormented souls and Bede records for us that such wonderful blessings did indeed mark the ministry of this prayerful man of God as he traveled into the remote villages and hamlets of East Anglia.
To our contemporary ears, the words, “heart” and “Spirit,” may sound symbolic, inward and intangible. But Christ himself said that I may see the effects of the invisible Spirit in the same way that I can physically see the outward effect of the invisible wind. To our ears, the “heart” of our emotions may seem like a symbolic notion – but only until it is breaking or grieving or filled with infatuation. Then the sensation of it is something quite physical.
Our thinking may tend to Greek dualities of ideal versus actuality, or spiritual versus physical, or symbolic versus real, but Celtic thought did not. Its vision of things was an altogether more integrated picture. In the Celtic worldview invisible realities and physical realities interweave and overlap, separated by only a hair’s breadth.
So when our Celtic brother prays for the Holy Spirit to dwell in his heart, in Fursa’s mind he is praying for a reality that one way or another will make itself seen, felt, or heard in the physical realm. To enter the world of Fursa’s faith I must therefore open my mind to these possibilities as I pray with Fursa today and ask that “the Holy Spirit may dwell in this heart.”