“A Dhia Ghleigil, Oh Glorious God”, Noirin Ni Riain & The Monks of Glenstall Abbey, from the album “Vox de Nube (Voice From The Cloud)” (1996)
Now it’s snowing very lightly and bright sun – sun flurry? Pretty, were it not for having to clear it away regularly – 6 inches in the last 2 days, white Christmas and all, -26 Celsius, light wind. All the world about me waiting breathless in frozen anticipation of rebirth. Maybe if we didn’t have winter and rebirth and summer we would not have these thoughts, conceived on a cold winter morning in a comfortable chair over a good hot cup of coffee, beside a warm stove. Reading Frank Sheed’s “Theology for Beginners” which informs my thoughts on “Spirit” today.
Best Christmas Day in years – surprised – was very depressed for weeks coming into Christmas and now everything is looking good. Christmas miracle? My thoughts this Christmas are focused on “Spirit”. The “Spirit” of Christmas, the “spirit” of love, the “spirit of “Peace” and a “spirit” of “Goodwill”. The spirit which animates us, our immortal soul.
Our soul is spirit, designed from all eternity to be in and with God. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; ” Jeremiah 1:5. Without this soul/spirit we are nothing but a small pile of rotting offal. All animation, all creativity, all beauty, all quality, all selflessness, all thought, all action, all peace, and all fear, all comes out of the animating presence of our soul/spirit, without which we are nothing but rotting dirt.
“Spirit” is the key. “God is a Spirit” so Jesus told the Samaritan woman. Unless we understand what a spirit IS we do not understand what He told her, and we do not understand what God IS. Absent the concept, the idea, of “spirit”, we find ourselves struggling to explain most of what we experience in life. Without even considering what “spirit” is, we simply accept it.
Spirit just fades into the background noise of our lives, like breathing, and drinking, and all the autonomous functions of daily life. We accept it without thinking and do the “Nodding Donkey” performance whenever someone else tries to explain where we came from or where we are going or why we are here. The same is true of all doctrines, they all include “spirit”. We actually are studying “spirit” all the time and the “mind” with which we are studying is also (a) “spirit”. All ideas have their source in spirit.
“The Beatitudes”, Noirin Ni Riain & The Monks of Glenstall Abbey, from the album “Vox de Nube (Voice From The Cloud)” (1996)
What is quality? We know it when we find it and we certainly know it when we experience it’s absence. But defining it in isolation is very hard. It is an idea, like fear, absent the proximate cause of “fear” we have a lot of trouble coming to grips with what exactly “fear” is … an idea. Peace, another idea, maybe easier to conceive of as “the absence of fear”, but still impossible to explain except in the context or presence or absence of something else, some other idea.
And where do the ideas originate? I have heard some folks say that ideas originate in the “mind”, and they seem to use “mind” and “brain” interchangeably. But what is the mind? It is not the brain because it is obviously separate from the brain, although it is also obvious that the mind animates the brain.
Perhaps we can settle upon “spirit” being that in us by which we know and love, by which we decide. And spirit has power, it is the mind, the spirit, of man that manipulates the universe in which we exist, that creates the conditions by which we survive, that splits the atom. Atoms are stuff, without spirit, without mind, and everything in existence is just more stuff made up of ever increasing agglomerations of this “atomic stuff”, without mind, without spirit.
“Stuff” cannot know it’s own constituents, it is inanimate and unknowing. the atom doesn’t split the mind, or itself, it doesn’t even “know” that it has electrons, any more than our hand – removed from our animate body – knows that it is a hand or what it could be used for. But “spirit” knows. It doesn’t necessarily know everything but it knows and it knows that it knows and it also knows that there is much that it doesn’t know and it can even conceive that there are “things” or “concepts” or “ideas” which it knows that it does not know, and it calls these “mysteries”.
Mind/spirit splits the atom and drills the oil and calculates the trajectories and plots the course to the stars and builds the ships to travel there and it does all these things through it’s will by “using” the body to control the material world. But there is never any question of the body using the spirit. There is no doubt in anyone’s “mind” that we, the mind/spirit will the using of the body, not the other way around, no matter what we may claim upon waking up after a hard partying night.
Our body knows nothing, wants nothing, loves nothing. Bodily pleasure is not enjoyed by the body. It is the mind/spirit that wants, and the body reacts to our wants, providing the mind with sensual experience. It is the knowing mind/spirit that enjoys or dislikes the experiences of the body. A body without an animating mind is either in a coma (the monster on the slab) or dead.
I seem to be belaboring this point but I am simply pointing out that we in fact DO accept totally the idea of spirit and that it exists, independently of material “stuff” like bodies. I assume that with only a little thought everyone would agree with that. Spirit produces what matter cannot. Spirit exists and is separate from the material universe. Spirit acts through will upon the material universe.
“An Taiseirl – The Resurrection”, Noirin Ni Riain & The Monks of Glenstall Abbey, from the album “Vox de Nube (Voice From The Cloud)” (1996).
So the Spirit exists, and is separate from the material. In fact the spirit is so separate from the material that it has no parts. This is perhaps the greatest mental leap we can undertake. To have the idea of an entity, which we all agree exists, and which we all agree is separate from the material world, and, the leap … which has no parts. The spirit, or A spirit, is one integral homogeneous contiguous whole.
Now a part is any element of, or in, a being which is not the whole of it, as in my hand or my foot is a part of my body or a wheel is a part of my car or an electron is a part of an atom but a spirit has no parts. There is nothing in it that is not the whole of it. There is no division of parts as there is in matter. Our bodies have parts, our creations and manipulations have parts, but there is no element in the soul which is not the whole soul.
The soul does an amazing array of things, loving, animating, knowing, but they are all done by the whole soul. The soul has no parts amongst which its activities are divided up. So, first let us think of anything we can think of that that occupies space. Think about IT whatever IT you have settled on.
One sees that any thing that occupies space must have parts. There must be bits and pieces which make up the whole but which each are not the whole. If it occupies space at all then there must be some spread of space which it occupies, some width or height or depth, in which the inside is not the outside. Space is nothing but what matter spreads its parts in.
An entity with no parts is superior to the need for space. A being with no parts doesn’t occupy space. That being and space have nothing in common. The partless being does not occupy space. We cannot see it, taste it, or feel it. It has no material existence and yet we all acknowledge that it exists and acts upon the material in space. Space is just emptiness. So we agree and have accepted that we have a partless being who occupies no space and acts through it’s will upon the material, part filled, world.
What we are talking about, at least at this point, is really what we think of as our “Self”. We “judge” that this must be true and this act of judging is another manifestation of the partless being, occupying no space, and yet acting upon material space, and all it holds, through it’s will. So emptiness is not essential to existence and dividedness is not essential to action.
And judgement is perhaps the commonest act of the will. Judgement is the most frequent of all the willed “actions” which this soul/spirit exerts upon material existence. Judgement can only take place given one single undivided partless principle, or entity, to take hold of, draw together, and compare and decide, to “make the judgement”, and from that judgement to will action through the spirit’s power over the material world.
Now we can see that a partless being, a being who occupies no space, and which no element of it is not the whole of it, cannot be changed into anything else, that it cannot be destroyed by any natural process of the universe of parts because it does not occupy that universe of parts. It is invulnerable to forces and actions originating in the universe of parts, the material universe.
“Adoro Te”, Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, from the album “Mater Eucharistiae” (2013)
Spirit is A, or THE, sort of being which, having a permanent hold on the whole of what it is, can never be other than what it is. Material things can be destroyed by acting upon their parts in such a way that the remainder can no longer sustain existence. What has parts can be taken apart. But a being with no parts which doesn’t exist in the material universe cannot be taken apart. It cannot end, It is immortal. Our own soul is such a being.
Our soul is the spirit we know best, wholly itself, forever itself, doing each thing that it does with its whole being, its whole self. And our soul is the least powerful of spirits. WE cannot create matter. We cannot create galaxies, or stars or … anything. We are pretty good manipulators of “stuff” which we find lying around but we cannot create any of the “stuff” by ourselves. Even the weakest angel is unimaginably superior and more powerful than us. Remember earlier when I mentioned ideas and concepts which we know we don’t know? Here lie monsters … and angels. The philosophers tell us that angels could, if they willed, destroy our material universe.
This is the first part of the journey… to arrive at a place where we acknowledge and accept that we are spirit, that our spirit/soul exists outside of time and space and has the power to will “affects” in the material universe which our material parts occupy physically while being animated by our spirit, our soul. Seeing this spiritual reality, understanding our eternal spiritual soul and it’s needs is the first step to detachment from the material.
Seeing this spiritual reality and the importance of our spiritual needs is the most important first step to growing out of childhood and detaching from material pleasures and things which, after all, are frighteningly mortal, doomed to die, doomed to pass away. The spirit, the soul is THE most important self. All the rest is nothing.
“15 Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world. If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world, is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17And the world passeth away, and the concupiscence thereof: but he that doth the will of God, abideth for ever.”1 John 2 (First Epistle of John Chapter 2) In some Bibles it is found in the book “Catholic Epistles”.
I would guess thinking about the real time actuality of a real spiritual eternal soul is a big bite to chew. We will look at more next post
Always remember, “Be charitable in your judgements, and never take yourself too seriously”