Tag Archives: Spirit

The Simple “Complexity” of Spirit

I have deep conviction that life is essentially a spiritual enterprise; or, as someone has said, “We are spiritual beings having an human moment.”   But to be honest, I’m hesitant to even use words like “spiritual” for in my culture they too often refer to jargon and rhetoric which I now see as ideological bondage described by the Apostle Paul as, the “letter of the law” which he described as spiritually lethal.

Bear with me here as, in my hubris, I attempt to define “spirit,”  to put into words that which is Ineffable and therefore beyond the grasp of language. The human ego is driven to attempt to but this Essential into words, to capture that which always eludes the effort to grasp it.  This is the existential dilemma of human beings, having in their heart an intrinsic drive to find meaning only to eventually to discover that the Ground of our being where meaning is found is always beyond our ego’s effort to capture, and therefore “own” it.   This obsession eventually brings us face to face with the experience of humility in which we have the opportunity to accept that this “Ground” is present in the very quest that drives us and is satisfied when we begin to resign from the “beseeching” of the ego and rest in the comfort of Grace, in the knowledge offered to us by W. H. Auden that “the Center that we cannot find is known to the unconscious mind.  There is no need to despair, we are already there.” Or, to put this wisdom in biblical terms, we must come to realize that God is “the author and the finisher of our faith” so that at some point we give up the efforts of “the flesh” to earn salvation, be this effort intellectual or moral endeavor.

This brings up the subject of meditation, a dimension of prayer which is usually dismissed in Protestantism as it is antithetical to Protestantism’s obsessively rational approach to Spirit.  Meditation brings one to recognize the limitation of rational thought, a recognition that teaches one the value of thinking but simultaneously the value of recognizing, and experiencing that there is more to spiritual endeavor (and to life) than rationality.  The most powerful expression of this insight I’ve ever run across was provided by Shakespeare when, in Hamlet, King Claudius was on his knees in prayer, offering these words, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below.  Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

So, how have I done in defining Spirit?  Failed miserably huh?  Well, good.  Then I’ve accomplished my purpose.  Life is a spiritual enterprise and rational understanding of it is completely beyond the grasp of our finite mind.  When this understanding and experience of finitude begins to sink into our ego-ridden consciousness, we are brought to our knees…so to speak, or perhaps literally.  For then we begin to embrace the incomprehensible Mystery of life which, paradoxically we recognize always has and always will Graciously embrace us.  “There is a Divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.”

ADDENDUM–I am about to diversify with this literary effort of mine.  In this blog I plan to focus more on poetry and prose.  Below you will see two other blogs of mine relevant to spirituality and politics which have lain dormant for most of the past five years.  I hope some of you will check them out.  However, the boundaries will not be clear as my focus is very broad and my view of life is very eclectic/inclusive/broad-based.  Yes, at times too much so!






Poetry is Dangerous!!!!

Yes, it will wreak havoc on your life; so, if poetry beckons, just turn around and go the other way or at least give it a wide passage for if you let it come to close it will insinuate its way into your heart and then, katy-bar-the-door, your life is over! Your are a dead man….or, at least, the man (or woman) you think you are is going to die.

Let me explain. I was in my early thirties and had quit teaching school and was beginning Dante’s venture into a “dark forest.” And then a young man who purported to be a friend had the audacity to give me a copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets and the Collected Poetry of W.H. Auden and I was almost immediately on the road to perdition. To make it worse, about the same time I discovered T. S. Eliot and his “Four Quartets” where I learned that words were ephemeral, that words “break, slip, slide, decay with imprecision, will not stay in place….shrieking voices always assail them.” you deign to venture into words to the extent that suddenly you awaken and discover that you are knee-deep in…ahem…the Word!

And since that point in my life, poetry has continued to worm its way into the depths of my heart, relentlessly delving into the secret corridors of my inner most being where I have discovered that, just as the Apostle Paul said, it is “quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Wow! Wow, wow, wow! That poor friend had no idea what he was doing to “literallew”…but, on the other hand, perhaps he did. He was a very astute soul.

But, how can “poetry” do this? Well, “poetry” as such does nothing. But poetry is a process, a dynamic process which is an expression of life, and if it happens to present itself to a heart that is ready to discover “penetrable stuff,” magic can unfold.

Why was I so ready? Well, the first clue was my fury at literature in high school and those dear schoolmarm teachers who would deign to force me to answer the question, “What does that mean to you?” I reacted with mute anger, dutifully trotting out whatever I thought they wanted, not daring to tell them what was really on my heart, “It means just what it says!!!!” Certainly, I did “protest too much”; and, yes, Shakespeare was my worst nightmare at that time as he just would not speak plain English, and certainly not Arkansas redneck, “po white trash” English.”

But now I swim in poetry…though I cannot write even an inch of it! As my wife told me not long after I met her and was obsessively quoting poetry (ncluding Auden’s note re Yeats, “Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry), “Mad Arkansas hurt you into other people’s poetry.” That was a veritable “word fitly spoken.”

Poetry is the Spirit of God at work, tearing words apart and allowing their hidden meaning to flow. Poetry is the word, broken….crucified, if you please…which allows its innermost depths to burgeon forth. This reminds me of a note by Gabriel Marcel, that words have meaning, or value, when they “burgeon forth into a region beyond themselves.” The literalist will not permit this as the “words” they use are concrete and will not be permitted to “break” and that is because the “ego” that they are will not be allowed to “break”…or, as Jesus taught, “die.”


Space, Silence, No-thingness, and Spirit

(St Andrews Cathedral)
These stones speak a level language
murmured word by word,
a speech pocked and porous with loss,
and the slow hungers of weathering.
And there, in the broken choir, children
are all raised voice, loving the play of outline
and absence where the dissembled god
has shared his shape and homed us.
At the end of the nave, the east front stands
both altered and unchanged,
its arch like a glottal stop.
And what comes across, half-said
into all that space, is that it’s enough
to love the air we move through.
(by Rachael Boast)

The “air we move through.” That captured my imagination as it brought to mind the notion of “space” that people like Eckhart Tolle and Richard Rohr speak of, words which can be thought of as referring to the domain of “spirit.” For, “space” is the context in which we breath and live but it is a context that is only “there” but we can never apprehend it with our rational mind. It is the foundation of this ephemeral world that we take for granted but which is ultimately specious, though infinitely important as an expression of what I like to call the Divine or the Ineffable. It is the domain of the heart, the Spirit, of Life which gives meaning to this “dog-and-pony show” that I refer to so often. I heard a lecture by Richard Rohr recently in which he used the term Silence, a different name for the same phenomena, and describing it as “the safety net which lies underneath the tight-rope walker, those of us who walk the razor’s edge.”

I now want to juxtapose the above poem with one by Eugene Mayo that I have always loved, entitled, “This Wind.”:

By E. L. Mayo

This is the wind that blows
Through and through.
I would not toss a kitten
Knowingly into a wind like this
But there’s no taking
Anything living
Out of the fury
Of this wind we breathe and ride upon.