This morning I did an assembly at our local SEN arts college on the theme of Pentecost and ideas:
Where do good ideas come from?
Willis Carrier, the inventor of air conditioning, claims to have thought of the concept as he waited for a train on a foggy night in 1902. It suddenly came to him that there was a relationship between temperature, humidity and the dewpoint (the point at which moist air becomes saturated and forms dew). Out of this moment of inspiration he developed the air conditioner.
Archimedes, the Greek mathematician and inventor, is said to have discovered his famous principle of buoyancy while having a bath. In a moment of inspiration he realized that there was a correlation between his body in the bath and the water that surrounded it.
JK Rowling couldn’t tell you where her ideas for Harry Potter came from. She has no idea how her imagination worked so successfully to create such a popular series of novels.
Ideas pop up at the most unusual times, often when they are least expected and from a source that’s impossible to identify. Some people talk of the power of the imagination, others of inspiration, literally ‘breathing in’ ideas.
Psychologists refer to the banks of memories we all acquire and the way these gradually interlock to produce an apparently new piece of understanding.
However, no one can clearly identify the source of good ideas.
This Sunday, Christians celebrate the festival of Pentecost. It’s the time when they remember the coming of the Holy Spirit to the first Christian believers. It was a dramatic event.
Read Acts 2:1-4
When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.
Gale force winds were involved, and flickering flames of fire. Most remarkable of all was the fact that as a result ordinary men and women began to do extraordinary things, such as speak in languages they’d never learned, share their money and personal possessions with one another and bring healing to those in the community who were ill.
Christians believe that the Holy Spirit is God’s presence inside us, that which distinguishes us from all other animals, our creative spark, if you like.
The Bible narrative shows that the Spirit has always been at work, from the creation, through the history of the Israelite nation to the events of the life of Jesus and the early church.
In the Bible the Holy Spirit is often portrayed by means of symbols: these include wind, flames, breath and the form of a dove. Usually when the Holy Spirit appears it’s to enable ordinary people to do extraordinary things. That would be part of the answer a Christian believer would give to my original question: Where do good ideas come from?
Christians believe that God shows himself to us in three ways: God the Father and Creator, Jesus who is God in human form and, finally, the Holy Spirit, the power of God active in the life of every human being.
What came as a shock to the early Church was the fact that the Holy Spirit was so utterly unpredictable: a deafening noise, a fire that didn’t burn and a compulsion to speak out loud in words that they’d never been taught. They were overwhelmed by the experience. It defied all their expectations. It didn’t conform to anything they’d ever met before. And this experience was the driving force that resulted in the creation of a religious movement that spread throughout the Roman Empire and exists worldwide today.
Do you ever get moments of inspiration? Maybe it’s an idea for a story or a piece of artwork. Maybe it’s the solution to a problem that’s been puzzling you for ages. It could be a wild and wacky idea for a project or a vision of what might happen in an ideal world. Both Jews and Christians believe that it’s the presence of the Holy Spirit that makes us human.
The Spirit is right there in the Creation story, powering all that comes into being. Jews and Christians believe the Spirit is the driving force that encourages us to explore and learn in every aspect of life: sport, art, science, education, relationships, whatever we’re involved in. The Spirit is the source of our inspiration.
Christians believe that God wanted his believers never to be alone again, so he sent the Holy Spirit to live with each of his followers. The followers of Jesus needed to be re-energized; they needed to know that they were not alone in their walk through life. They wanted help, guidance and assurance so that they could cope with whatever life threw at them.
Our lives are not guaranteed to be easy. We will all face loss, rejection and sadness at times. However, we are not alone in our journey, whether you believe in a God or a higher being, or simply draw from your own inner strength, you will be able to cope with whatever life throws at you. We are surrounded by family, friends and teachers, and these people are all available to encourage us to persevere and succeed in life. There is no point hiding away in an upper room.
Just as the reaction to the Holy Spirit was mixed 2,000 years ago, with people choosing to interpret the events differently, people today can come to their own conclusions as to what really happened and how it could affect us now. What source of inspiration do you have to help you through your life?
The Spirit is in you and is in me because we’re part of the human race. This is what the Bible means when it says that God created us in his image. Some Christians believe that it’s because of the presence of God in each of us that we’re alive at all. (The Bible uses the same word for Spirit and for breath.)
When we take leaps of imagination, and show new levels of creativity or invention, it’s as if we’re acting a little like God. All of us.
But the Pentecost festival is about Christians believing that even more is possible. Pentecost shows God taking to new levels the creativity, imagination and action of those who believe in Jesus Christ.
Time for reflection
The word ‘inspiration’ means ‘to breathe in’. That’s why the image of the Holy Spirit as the breath of God is so helpful. In times when we need a little extra, it’s as easy as breathing in.
Maybe sometimes our prayers need fewer words and more being silent and allowing God’s breath to breathe into us.
Dear Lord, thank you for the gift of your creative Holy Spirit to each of us. When we are searching for inspiration in any aspect of our life, may we take a deep breath and turn to you. Amen.