We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


In his book, The Battle of Britain, historian James Holland describes a conversation British writer and homemaker Daidie Penna had with a man in a pub over the dire situation Britain faced in mid-1940 after Germany defeated France.  Speaking of the Nazis, this man is quoted as saying, "they've got to be stopped.  And I believe they will be stopped by something which is in the nature and genius of our species."  Holland quotes Penna as responding, "Spirit," to which the man replied, "Yes, spirit.  That will do it." (p. 311).

Not armaments.  Not manpower.  Not strategy.  Not diplomacy.  But spirit.

So what is it?  The first definition at dictionary.com is, "the principle of conscious life; the vital principle in humans, animating the body or mediating between body and soul."  But what do these words mean?  Not to belabor the point, the word, "spirit," is one of those words that name a "thing" that is very real to us as human beings but which is subjective rather than objective, non-physical rather than physical, and cannot be quantified with anything even remotely approaching precision.  Penna's use of the term was not at all religious and doesn't reflect what some would consider to be religious "mumbo jumbo."  And while there maybe measurable physiological symptoms associated with our experience of spirit (as when one meditates or prays), the human spirit itself is no more those symptoms than Handel's "Messiah" is the collective set of sound waves produced by an orchestra.  It isn't sound waves that drives an audience to its feet but rather the beauty, the harmony, and the depth of feeling that surfs those waves and is something majestically more than them.

In athletics, there is something more to winning than training, coordination, experience, and skill.  It is spirit.  An army equipped to the gills with all it needs to do battle still requires morale, courage, and a will to win, none of which are physical realities.  It is just such qualities as these, as spirit, that make us human—along with other meta-physical properties such as hate and lust.  Love.  Loyalty.

And, again, it is almost certainly true that these extra-physical qualities or properties are tied to human evolution and have aided us in our development of a species.  They are not "unnatural."  They are extra-physical, meta-physical, and non-physical evolutionary realities.  Like a great painting, they are much more than pigments, brush, and canvas.  What makes a painting in-spiring is something in that combination that truly is greater than the sum of painting supplies and the skill of the artist.

Morning comes quietly to the lake as the mist lifts gently and full light touches water, woods, and sky.  Riding the shifting breeze comes the first lilting call of a loon.  We hear the sounds waves with our ears, the sounds are electrically transmitted to our brain, but it is our spirit that is stirred and comforted by these sounds riding on the silence of the morning.  Amen.