Thursday 11 May 2023

A Spirit in Need

I’d like you to just pause for a moment and wonder about something.

Spirit. I think there’s a part of our individual being that’s spirit. Name it something else, if you wish, but there’s a part of our wholeness of being that isn’t physical or mental and I’m going to call it spirit. I can tell you where I think it comes from before this life and where it goes after, but that’s my own belief and right now I’m just interested in what we’re doing with it here.

I’ve said this before, I know, but I’m trying to remove any sense of religion from it for a moment. Yes, I know I used the word “spirit,” but I’m confident that’s not exclusively a religious word anymore. There was certainly a time when we thought the two were interchangeable, but we’ve grown from that and I think we can make a distinction: spirit is the life force or energy that’s in living things, it powers living things and connects them; religion is an outside structure, created by human beings, with rituals, language and places that we hope helps us engage our spiritual nature, connect it to the wholeness of our being and informs how we might use it in the world.

As all religious institutions in Canada are experiencing a steep decline in participation, it might be worth stepping back from our religious traditions and structures for a minute - as hard as that may be - and wonder about what our spirits need. Because our spirits are in real need.

Sure, many churches are trying to be more contemporary, more relevant. But I wonder if we’re still locked into denominations and structures that enshrine religion over spirit. Maybe what’s needed is a whole new mindset, one that tries to let go of being inside the house of religion and instead looks at spirit with the freedom of those outside the system. 

I hear that in the apostle Paul’s speech to community leaders in Athens. There’s a story in the Bible, in the Acts of the Apostles (a continuation of Luke’s gospel that records the earliest days of the followers of Jesus after he leaves). Paul sees all the temples and shrines to the Greek gods. The Greeks had pretty much a god for everything and, just in case they missed one, they even had a temple for “an unknown” god. You don’t want to be missing one, even by accident.

When Paul speaks, he doesn’t begin with chastising them for their beliefs, he begins with acknowledging them. “I see how extremely spiritual you are in every way,” he says. At least, it depends on the translation: some say “religious.” And I think Paul meant religious, because he goes on to tell them about the one God who has been from the beginning - not many gods for many things, but one God for all things - and he tells them that God doesn’t live in shrines or temples. He tells them that God isn’t served by ritual and human constructs. He tells them that in God “we live and move and have our being.” Our very being is in God. That’s the spirit.

It’s hard to let go. Harder still to find a new way. We might, as Paul also says, need to fumble about a bit looking for God. We might even find God. The spirit is always willing.

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