The Christian Pentecost
According to the Book of Acts, when the disciples gathered to celebrate the Hebrew festival of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on them in a form like fire, and She filled them with the power of speaking in tongues and prophesying. The apostle Peter spoke with such passion that thousands felt compelled to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Thus the Christian church was born.
If this had been the first time humans had ever felt the touch of something awesome and spiritually terrifying, Peter would probably have had a hard time convincing his audience that Jesus was worth worshiping. Yet when we grow up hearing stories of faith over and over again, we tend to accept their truth. Why, then, should we not believe other awe-inspiring tales?
Two thousand years ago, when Peter preached, the universe seemed magical. It was common to assume that spiritual forces caused the sun and moon to rise and set, that the hand of deities formed us and determined our fate. Especially for those among Peter’s audience, life could be gritty and harsh. By threatening them with damnation if they refused to believe and promising them salvation for their souls, the apostle convinced the sorrowful, confused, bitter, and thirsty people to convert.
I’m not trying to say the Holy Spirit didn’t speak through Peter, for how do I know? One way or another, he and his colleagues convinced their listeners to accept this new baptism in the name of Jesus. Then they gave up their lives, sold their belongings, pooled their money, and supported one another as a community of believers.  They were guided, so Scripture tells us, by the Holy Spirit sent by the God of Abraham and Moses.
Believing Amazing Things
In 1869, a doctor named Cyrus Teed, was experimenting with high-voltage electricity when he received a severe electric shock. In his moment of unconsciousness, a spirit came to him and told him he was the Messiah. The experience so changed him that he started calling himself Koresh, which is the Hebrew word for Cyrus, “and set out to save the soul of humanity.” 
After his experience, Teed taught that we live not on the outside of a spherical planet, but on its inside, the sun some sort of electrified light. In spite of such absurdity, he managed to gather a community of faithful followers. Together, they started some communes. When he died, those faithful few waited around his body for it to rise and be taken up to heaven. When this did not happen, the community fell apart. 
Few of us would believe that Koresh had been touched by a divine force. Whatever happened in his mind during his period of unconsciousness, he probably did not meet with a spirit. If he did, either that spirit was playing a joke on him or was itself misguided. Even so, Teed was able to convince others of the truth of his tale. In perhaps a similar way, the biblical writers have convinced millions of people that, unlike Teed, Jesus’s resurrected body really did rise up to heaven.
We humans believe any manner of amazing things. So confident are we that what we observe must be what really exists, we can accept that the Earth is hollow, that we have been abducted by aliens, that angels talk to us, and that God once walked in a garden. Sometimes doubt takes more effort than belief.
Belief and Doubt
Doubt can also be scary. As a chaplain, I’ve met with a number of patients who choose to claim Christ as their savior because they fear hell or annihilation. After all, if they’re right and Jesus is the only way to God, they win eternal life. If they’re wrong, no harm done.
But how do we know that the Christian stories are any more true than are Koresh Teed’s? Did the Holy Spirit really fill the hearts of the disciples and give them words to speak? How do we know?
Years ago, I read an article about talking to garden spirits, or devas. Teaching a form of muscle testing that resulted in a “yes” or “no” answer, the article encouraged the reader to ask questions of the devas about how to grow particular plants. The questions could include such things as where to put the plant in the garden and how to amend the soil.
After I experimented with talking to devas, a thought arose in my mind to try using the technique to talk to my spirit guides. Spirit guides? I wondered. What the heck are they?
Apparently, we all have at least one spirit guide.  Some people have more. With muscle testing, I learned to talk with mine. I still communicate with them. At least, I still communicate with something. And I even receive comfort and useful guidance from this communication.
However – and my spirits told me they wouldn’t be offended if I shared this with you – I’m not completely convinced they’re real. Having been raised by atheists, scientists, and engineers, I tend to be skeptical of spiritual things. I didn’t read the Bible until I attended seminary, so those stories don’t make much sense to me. I love the idea of magic and enjoy a good myth or fairy tale, but if you told me my spirits are all in my head or suggest that I’m really getting advice from my subconscious, I wouldn’t disagree.
That doesn’t mean such guidance can’t help us. Many people feel supported by the spirit world. Who am I to say it doesn’t exist? Besides, when working with spirit guides, I’m not sure belief matters all that much. Even if you think it’s crazy, you can find yourself gently and lovingly helped.
For instance, after some difficult experiences at the State Hospital where I was a chaplain intern, I started struggling with painful memories from my adolescence. I re-entered counseling. A technique I found helpful was to imagine walking along a timeline to a past life where I would relive something relevant to whatever I struggled with in the present. The counselor then led me in a healing of that experience. In the process, something shifted inside me, healing my present story, as well.
As dreams or visions can, those experiences seemed real. My past lives weren’t extraordinary. I was a Greek warrior, a wealthy French woman, an impoverished mother of two in some frozen northern land, and a young Jewish girl shot by soldiers. Nonetheless, the stories helped me make meaning out of my current life. I came to understand myself in a different way. I gained strength, peace of mind and heart, and became more whole.
Making Sense of the World
Without stories, we cannot make sense of our world. My past life memories don’t have to be real to help me cope, help me understand, help me heal. Even if I’m not connecting with a god or spirit, I trust my subconscious to give me the material I need to grow and become my best self.
As I judge this therapeutic method by judging the outcome, so we can judge our spirit guides. Do these guides support love, healing, and mercy, or encourage us to harm ourselves and others? Do they teach us compassion and acceptance or teach us to judge and condemn? Through their guidance, do we become better human beings? If not, I suggest you search for guidance that is more helpful.
If you like the idea of spirit guides, you can get information about them all over the internet. You can learn what kinds of spirit guides there are, how to get in touch with them, and how to make sense of the messages they send. On one website “Zensational,” Miki Orr describes some of these guides. For instance, she explains, there’s the Great Spirit, which is Mother, Father, God, Source. The Great Spirit doesn’t talk to us directly, but we get insight from Her through other people. Then there’s our Higher Self which is revealed as an inner wisdom, a still, small voice. Our Joy Guide helps us “lighten up,” and we may have Teacher Guides, a Guardian Spirit, or a Helper. There are gatekeepers, angels and archangels, ancestors, and totem animals. Finally, there are those wonderful nature spirits or devas. 
Some Christians warn against seeking advice from such creatures. Only the Holy Spirit comes from God, they say; all other spirit guides come from Satan. Apparently demonic spirits can speak with wondrous tongues, convince us of their loving message, only to lead us astray.
On the website “Got Questions,” an anonymous author warns us to avoid anything that smacks of spiritualism. He tells us that false spirit guides try to make us believe lies. For instance, New Age philosophies or Eastern religions may teach us that we are born into human form so we can “be transformed through spiritual awareness, realize [our] inner divinity, and connect with the cosmos,” but the author claims this is wrong because the Bible teaches us that our “purpose is to glorify God and be conformed to His image.” Though spirit guides may tell us that humans are inherently good, the author tells us the Bible teaches that we are inherently sinful. Apparently spiritualism asserts that “the truth is relative and there are many paths to God.” This writer believes that “God is truth, and Jesus Christ is the only way to right relationship with Him.” 
Thus he warns us to avoid “dabbling in the spirit world,” for Satan is very cunning. The author states that if the guidance you receive does not lead you to the “one, true faith,” then it is false, no matter if it helped free you from shame, taught you to forgive, or opened your heart so you could love others.
Judging Spiritual Guidance
I judge the value of spiritual guidance differently than he. Some of you, of course, will dismiss the idea of spirit guides completely. Nonetheless, I think we all can accept that we have access to an inner wisdom that is deeper than we consciously know. To make use of it, you don’t have to believe it comes from God or from some spiritual being. Call it a conscience, if you will. Call it that small, still voice that helps us figure out what is right and what is wrong. We all have such a voice, and learning to listen to it is vital.
To listen to it can also take some measure of humility. We must acknowledge we do not have all the answers in our busy, rational brain. We must seek help from somewhere, even if only from other people. On this Pentecost Sunday, let us consider that there might be something, somewhere, that we cannot see and cannot measure that can help us move forward in our lives with grace and mercy.
Regardless of what you believe, and regardless of whether or not you seek guidance from a spiritual source outside yourself, the important thing is to learn to listen. Listen to that still, small voice. Listen to your teachers, to your community’s myths, to your own heart. Whether you think of them as spiritual or not, you have guides. Pay attention, and you will discover what you need to know.
In faith and fondness,
- See Acts 2:43-47.
- Pratchett, Terry, Ian Stewart, and Jack Cohen, Judgment Day: The Science of Discworld IV, New York: Anchor, 2016, 136.
- “Cyrus Teed,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyrus_Teed, accessed 5/19/18.
- See, for example, https://lonerwolf.com/spirit-guides-types/, http://www.vanpraagh.com/a-guide-to-your-spirit-guides/, and http://www.beliefnet.com/wellness/2010/09/contact-your-spirit-guides.aspx. Thanks to URC member, Jeff, for the inspiration to look this up.
- Orr, Miki, “Types of Spirit Guides,” Zensational, www.zensational.biz/types-of-spirit-guides.html, accessed 5/19/18/.
- “What Are Spirit Guides? Should Christians Consult Spirit Guides?,” Got Questions, https://www.gotquestions.org/spirit-guides.html, accessed 5/19/18.