The Spiritual Spiral

This is an excerpt from a reflection given at the Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga in May 2015, about the value of tending to your spirit.

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How do you understand the term spirit?  Does it include connection? Something Greater? Something Vital?

Something greater might be God, it might be nature, it might be the universe. The words will always be inadequate. And will vary from person to person.

But the difficulty in language should not prevent us from speaking about matters of the spirit.

For me, the spirit is the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. We all have bodies, minds, and emotions.  We have personalities and histories, and experiences. And yet taking it all together we are still something more.

In Unitarian Universalism, spirit refers to the wholeness of the self  – the wholeness of all beings. It can also refer to the greater whole – again that might be God or the universe. I use it both for the wholeness of the individual self and the wholeness of the – well – whole.

Words are inadequate!

“From the Latin spiritus, the word spirit is linked with air and breath: felt but not seen, intangible yet essential, ephemeral yet connects us to one  another. No name is large enough to hold this power [that is larger than life, although it contains life], but of all the inadequate names, the one that comes to me now is spirit. […the word seems to catch the lightness, radiance, and wind-like subtlety of the power that I seek].”  (Scott Russell Saunders in The Force of Spirit)

Spirit. Breath. Wind. Air.

Air connects us all, it surrounds us, the air we breathe is the air that has always been part of the planet.

We are rarely aware of the air. We notice air when there isn’t enough of it – people with asthma know it all too well. And we notice air when it is in upheaval – whirlwinds creating chaos.

I’d say the spiritual aspect of living is a little like air. We notice when it’s missing and our lives feel constricting and tight. We notice when life is too intense and blowing us about. It’s why many people when they first come to UCM need to sit in the back and cry.

Spirit may be intangible, but it is also vital to our well being. And many people, whose lives are neither too constricting or too intense, might never pay attention to their spiritual side.

But for those who are aware, wonder awaits.

“”Spiritual treasure can be found in our everyday life. Spirit does not exist except as part of the bodily experiences of human life on earth” (Barbara Brown Taylor).

The spiritual is not separate from the material but is entangled. Just as we are entangled in air – it surrounds us and is within us. It is when we live with attention and awareness that we begin to see this.

It is of primary importance, perhaps more now than ever, that our spirit, the essence of ourselves, which some might call soul, can experience a sense of connection to the immensity of the greater whole – to the spirit of all.

Spirituality can be, at its most basic, understood as the awareness that all life is connected. Spirituality is not a set of beliefs, but a way to experience the universe whole.

Sara Maitland, a writer who went to live alone and experience true silence, describes a moment when she was sitting on a rock high on the side of a valley looking down onto a river in the distance.

“..Quite suddenly and unexpectedly, I slipped a gear, or something like that.  There was not me and the landscape, but a kind of oneness: a connection as though my skin had been blown off.  More than that – as though the molecules and atoms I am made of had reunited themselves with the molecules and atoms that the rest of  the world is made of. I felt absolutely connected to everything.  It was very brief, but it was a total moment. “

Spiritual experiences are experiences of connection. They happen in your body, in the world.

Spiritual practices are disciplines that help us develop patterns of behaviour that make it easier for us to be aware of a sense of connectedness.

Some might not even call it a spiritual sense, like sports fans. But to cheer so ardently for the Blue Jays baseball team, to feel such connection to the team’s wins and losses, what else is it but a sense of connection to something larger?

I was on Yonge Street way back when the Blue Jays won the 1993 World Series. I suspect the euphoria that night was not much different from the joy at the Hindu festival of Diwali.

We all need to belong to something larger than ourselves.

The spiritual is the sense that despite all of our knowledge, all of power, all of our control, that we are part of something beyond our comprehension.

Something so vast, so immense, so beautiful.

Something we didn’t have to do work for or sacrifice for, but simply is.

And we are part of that oneness.

Our molecules reuniting with all the other molecules.

It is a way to press the reset buttons on ourselves.

After experiences like Sara Maitland’s slipping gear up on that rock high up in the valley , people report feeling lighter, or comforted, or freer, or joyful.

After the Montreal Canadians win the Stanley Cup, (fingers crossed) people will express similar feelings!

And that’s okay, connection can be found in unexpected places.

It can also be found here.

We are the place with a spiritual perspective.  It’s what religions do. As people of the chalice we are called to look beyond ourselves and pay attention to the luminous web of life.

One of the symbols of our chalice community is the golden spiral.  Also known as the golden ratio, or the divine proportion, it is a mathematical spiral of precise geometry.

The spiral has the self at the centre, going out to the community, to the earth, to the universe.

Our spiritual lives are like this as well – a going outwards into connection with all that is and a going inwards into greater self awareness –  the spiral movement taking us ever forward.

Let us live into the spiral, live into our bodies, and so find ourselves part of the mystery.

 

Spirit

At last Sunday’s service at the Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga  I spoke about religious language (Found in Translation, January 11, 2015) and the struggles we have as Unitarian Universalists sorting out the words that shape our spiritual orientation. I committed to a blog post each week to explore a word and its meaning in the hopes of helping my congregants (and myself!) to better understand UU theology and vocabulary. We hope to figure out where our common meanings lie, what the differences are; where we can be on the same page, where we might have to compromise, and where we might need a new word altogether.

These comments reflect my current understanding of a word.  Please join in the conversation by sharing your thoughts in the comments.

by Alannah Lee Clamp

by Alannah Lee Clamp

Spirit

Spirit is the vital principle which animates life but is not itself material. I like to think of it as the whole which is more than the sum of its parts, that part of each living being which expresses its essence. Spirit is linked with breath, wind, air. Like air, spirit can be felt, but not seen, it is ethereal, but also a source of connection. Spirit brings us closer to the living world when we recognize its vital presence everywhere on earth. An awareness of spirit calls us to presence, to pay attention to the here and now. I don’t understand spirit as separate from the body, but rather see spirit and body as integrated expressions of life. I don’t see spirit as a guiding authority or independent presence but as an essential part of being alive and part of the whole.

A sense of spirit is hard to experience – it’s always just beyond my awareness, but I sense it during walks in the woods or when a group of people are caught up in a moment together.  Because of spirit’s ephemeral nature, it can be easy to not notice it. People can live well without consciously experiencing a sense of spirit.  For others, it is an invaluable experience of being connected, of belonging. Seekers are helped by an embodied spiritual discipline such as prayer or meditation or dance, part of that paradox of being present in the body opening us to the spirit.

 

Balm for the Spirit

Each Monday for the rest of the summer I will be posting a “Monday Meditation”, a quote, a poem, a video, an image to start the week with a moment of calm.  Enjoy!

“Summer is the time when one sheds one’s tensions with one’s clothes, and the right kind of day is jeweled balm for the battered spirit.  A few of those days and you can become drunk with the belief that all’s right with the world.”
Ada Louise Huxtable

Lake of Two Rivers, Algonquin Provincial Park, July 2011