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Take a deep breath: The inspiration of the Holy Spirit

To introduce students to the Christian teaching that the Holy Spirit is at the heart of human imagination (SEAL theme: Motivation).

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To introduce students to the Christian teaching that the Holy Spirit is at the heart of human imagination (SEAL theme: Motivation).

Preparation and materials

  • Prepare three readers (section 1).
  • The coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost is described in Acts 2.1–4.


  1. Leader  Where do good ideas come from?

    Reader 1  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.

    Reader 2  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.

    Reader 3  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.

    Leader  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.
  2. Towards the end of this month, 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. (You may wish to read the Bible account in Acts 2.1–4, using a modern translation.)

    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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.


‘Every breath you take’ by The Police

‘Spirit of God’ (Come and Praise, 63)

Publication date: May 2012   (Vol.14 No.5)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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