professor plumb and the wholly ghost

4 08 2010

it didn’t look like this

I got a call about a house clearance. And I’m not talking sofas. I’m talking ghosts.  Please can you come and help me, I think there is a ghost in my house.  This led me down an interesting theological pathway. Do I believe in ghosts? Do I believe in being haunted? I know Jesus did exorcisms but I never have. Is it all in the mind?

Trouble is the lady was still on the phone so I didn’t have time to write a paper on it. I just went. Do you go alone? Do you go at all? What do you take? Perhaps for the only time ever I wished I was Catholic so I could take a large crucifix and a dramatic cassock like in the movies. Holy water crossed my mind until I realised I didn’t believe in holy water. So I took a Bible. Not that that is magic either.

I got there and feeling nervous went to the room in which there had been some strange sightings. I wished I hadn’t come alone. It was ok until the lady showed me a photo they had captured of the ghost. Then I was really quite scared. My head told me that Jesus is more powerful than any other power, so all I needed was to pray. Great theory. I wanted that holy water now. In fact, the lady wanted it too – she wanted me to ‘do something’. So I prayed, which seemed like a bit of a let-down. She left me to it.

Afterwards when nothing had happened and I was ready to go, I explained that I believed Jesus was more powerful than any other spirits, and that she could pray herself if she wanted to, just the Lord’s Prayer or a made-up one like ‘please God keep us safe’ or ‘make it go away’. Though I sensed this wasn’t what she had in mind. She wanted an incantation, a magic word or phrase. I suggested she some along to church to find out more about the god she had asked to help her (I don’t mean me). I sensed this wasn’t what she had in mind either.

Many people see the church like a service industry. Got a leaky bathroom – call the plumber. Got a ghost – call the vicar. Need a baptism fitted, a wedding built or a funeral laid? Call the vicar. Tradesman do a job and then go, without expecting you to adhere to their theory of plumbing or attend plumbing school every Sunday morning with a whole load of apprentice plumbers. They just plumb and go. Vicars aren’t  tradesman. We are followers of Jesus. But we will still come.

I don’t know if there was a ghost. I don’t know if I ‘achieved’ anything. Except that I was invited into a strangers home to pray for them and their family. And I like to think I left a teeny bit of Holy Spirit in that house. I hope they find her. I’ll go back and find out sometime.



7 responses

4 08 2010

Its a moral dilemma or three isn’t it! We may have doubts about ghosts but presumably we do acknowledge that there are evil spirits, which may or may not be the same thing. But there aren’t nearly as many as some people find and blame and claim to have cast out. However I am pretty certain they exist and I have seen some of their effects. Your lady didn’t want a theological discussion, she wanted somebody to take an interest in something that was troubling her and to do something about it.

To that extent Vicars are just like the local tradesmen. They get called out in emergencies, at inconvenient times, to help put things right. That is surely a huge and vital part of ministry.

The dilemma is that people want some action that they can see. Not just in exorcisms or whatever but in many other things, and the Church encourages it. Why do we lay hands on people when we pray for them? I don’t know but I’ve done it and it works, but not always! Why do we annoint with oil? Ditto.

Why do vicars wear different clothes – isn’t it to show they are a teany bit set apart? Isn’t communion actually a symbolic act (Oh dear, sorry I have started something now!) and the efficacy comes through the faith, which is reinforced by the action. Why do we encourage people to fall over when we pray for them to receive the Holy Spirit, if not to show that something has happened which has absolutely nothing to do with standing upright? I could go on but you get the drift and I’ve probably set enough hares running.

So would it be wrong to take along some consecrated water and sprinkle it, provided it didn’t stain the furniture? Would it be wrong to take a candle and light it? Or to pronounce some invocation? If it increases somebody’s faith in GOD and helps them to believe, what is wrong? Of course if we give them faith in the action per se then that is wrong. But I’m not sure a lot of us know where the dividing line is here in our day to day worship and lives.

I think I would be more worried if our theology was so rigid that it stopped us ministering to somebody in need who need help and enlightenment on their spiritual journey. Isn’t that the job of Vicars? And the rest of us.

5 08 2010

I do think sometimes us low-church evangelicals can be in danger of throwing the baby out with the holy bath-water in our fear of magical powers being attributed to things rather than to God… the ‘but’ is of course that people will so readily attach to them rather than to God. The tangible is easier to accept and understand. Maybe next time I will take a candle. You can’t go wrong with a candle.

16 10 2013

Take a candle and explain to the lady (or whoever) that it’s a symbol – a kind of visual aid – of Christ the Light of the World being stronger than any darkness.
Take holy water and explain that it’s a reminder of our baptism – when evil is renounced and Christ is proclaimed as Lord.
Take oil and explain that it’s a symbol of the power of the Holy Spirit – the Spirit that was in Jesus raising Him from the dead and overcoming evil with good.
And use them all, thus leaving her with a visual memory of Christ the light of the world overcoming her darkness.
And maybe also leave her with a holding cross – as a symbol of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Just a few thoughts from a non-catholic…

16 10 2013

Good symbolism there – where we’re you when I needed you?!

16 10 2013

I was right here, as always… 🙂 I write as an evangelical by upbringing and inclination currently worshipping in a church which is rather further “up the candle” than I’m comfortable with but which is a community and building of deep spirituality and where people are healed of deep hurts. I don’t understand it, and struggle with in intellectually and theologically, especially all the Hail Marys at every turn – but the symbolism is ancient and very rich and needn’t become an idol, any more than, in lower-church contexts, the Bible can become an idol (or a particular interpretation thereof) or, dare I say, a _refusal_ to emply symbolism “on principle”… Remember, I speak as someone who is evangelical by background, theology and inclination and as I type am aware of a current dilemma of mine which could be resolved were I to relinquish precisely that kind of idolatry myself. Father, forgive…

5 08 2010

Just make sure you don’t set fire to the house or anything in it, that might not be regarded as good ministry, nor as a practical example of the coming of the Holy Ghost!

31 08 2010
James Harvey


Hi there – i am just reading this having been out and about for 6+ weeks – i’m sure you have almost forgotten about it!

we had a guy come and talk to us in college about deliverance stuff and he spoke about ghosts and was very level headed and helpful i thought. He said that you should never let go of your skepticism but let your ears listen respectfully. He also said that ghosts are sad, lost and desperate and often asking for a way out and we should pray for ghosts to go and enter the rest God offers the dead. He suggested blessing a bowl of water (not necessarily holy water) and sprinkling the house/room with it – especially the thresholds and then to pray God’s blessing and peace in their home/lives. thought it was quite a helpful way forward. Hope this is useful for next time?

Keep up the blogging – really really appreciate them as they stimulate my own theological reflection.

Take care.

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