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> Monday, April 9th, 2012 > Opinion > Notes from Day Seven: “Spirituality” this summer
Notes from Day Seven: “Spirituality” this summer
Click here to read more Interrobang articles written by Michael Veenema
Published: Monday, April 9th, 2012
The word “spiritual” comes from the Jewish-Christian tradition. Its meaning was different from the meanings many people give it today. Paying attention to the original meaning can help us move forward.
In that Jewish-Christian tradition, the word for “spirit” is also used for “wind” and “breath,” as in “the breath of God.” The Spirit of God appears in the opening lines of the (Jewish-Christian) Bible. He gives life and order to the created world. (I had to choose between “she,” “he” and “it.” Technically any of them will do.) Therefore, all the world is God’s and all of it is spiritual.
However, because humans partner with evil, there’s a split between us and God. This gives the Spirit some extra work for the time being. (Ditto for the other two members of the Trinity, God the Father and Jesus the Son.) He is a key player in giving new life and new order to the lives of all persons who accept that life and God’s reordering of their lives.
This is why in the Christian understanding the spiritual life involves change. Often this is called “repentance” and that means “change,” “a turning around;” a change of consciousness and changes in patterns of living. And this causes changes in all areas of life: how a person responds to a class member in the hallway; how an instructor relates to students; how a political leader responds to constituents and power groups; how a doctor views her responsibility to diagnose patients accurately; how a person makes and handles money; how the parent guides the child; etc.
This is quite a bit different from the usual way “spirituality” is defined in recent times. It’s true that different people will define spirituality different ways, but I think that generally when we hear the word “spirituality” what first comes to mind are ideas such as compassion and justice. Also included is the idea of an awareness of the natural world. And associated with those you often find a suspicion of power, lawyers, guns and money. Politicians are not spiritual. Members of Greenpeace might be. Economists are not spiritual. People who run food banks are. Most men probably aren’t spiritual. Women are more likely to be.
We can thank the long dead German Philosopher Immanuel Kant (modestly named since his first name is Hebrew for “God with us”) for this understanding of spirituality. According to his way of thinking, the domain of women was the kitchen, the children and morality or church. Men, on the other hand, built buildings, made money, managed the farm, worked in laboratories, taught university, practiced law and conducted wars.
Effects of this kind of thinking are with us today, a little less in the Catholic churches, and a little more in the Protestant churches that have been around a long time. In those Protestant churches you’ll find few men and a few more women (most of them noticeably aging).
But those effects linger not only in the churches. They also linger in popular understandings of spirituality. Not to repeat myself, but again “spiritual” people are more often than not women, environmentalists and the runners of food banks. “Spiritual” people are not the ones mining the Alberta tar pits.
From my observations, the earlier Jewish- Christian understanding of spirituality holds more promise and is more likely to endure. Leaving behind evil and embracing good is not something just for women. Working for good in the family is something men as well as women must work at. Not just men, but women too, must be concerned that the workplace and the business world bring about justice and fairness for all who are impacted by the factories and offices in London and elsewhere.
As an aside, leaving the pursuit of morality and the raising of children mainly in the hands of women diminishes men and exhausts women. And leaving women out of the political and economic activities of our time diminishes women and exhausts men.
My point is not so much about the equality of women and men. It is mainly to say that everyone is called upon to consider what makes our lives tick.
What patterns in our lives are hurting others and our own selves? What in our lives is “unspiritual” in the sense that it does not build but tears down, does not promote fairness but feeds injustice, does not open the way for dignity and love, but paves the road towards divisiveness and even war? What in our lives needs the Spirit of God to create change, a turn-around, a repentance, a renouncing of stuff from the past and an embracing of new patterns for living?
Summer can be a very busy time, working to save for next year’s tuition, travelling and reconnecting with friends and family. But maybe, away from the deadlines of assignments and quizzes, it can also be a time to reconsider how your and my life should be different, where we need the Spirit of God to bring new life.