The search for Spirit
There is a surge of need – bordering, for a few, on desperation – for something to believe in that allows us to rationalise whatever our ‘normal’ thinking is, something that will give us hope and guidance, something that says there is more to death than you think, more to life than you are getting. A place where ritual, beauty and appreciation ease the pains of ageing, turn creeping dementia into calm not panic and leave us with purpose we never thought possible.
All advisers find echoes of this with their clients all the time. Efficiency, productivity, and all the business demands that Governments urge to put economies back together again are matters of competitive efficiency and need to be sensibly attended to. In the end it is still people who make our businesses work – at least we always say so. If we don’t mean it we’d better stop pretending.
The survival of freedom of choice depends on our regard for individuals. Making people’s lives hell for an increase in productivity is a crazy waste of time, quite apart from being a wicked exercise of life’s purpose. Competition serves us well; too much competition serves us hell. Or, as the popular mantra now doing the rounds says, “Compete when you must, cooperate when you can”. Right now there are billions of people seeking spiritual refuge from the rigors of pandemic discipline and a sense of isolation induced by watching even the most moderately reported news.
Spirituality used to be somewhat supplied by the established religions. Their confidence was dogma, their punishment, eternal damnation. Like all human institutions many became self-serving and introspectively wicked – sometimes extrovertly wicked too, but that’s humankind for you. Their real decline has been during the pandemic. Religions’ ineptness in handling the most important time for belief for centuries had exposed the flaws in slow-developing doctrine and the difficulties in modifying positions they said were unalterable even twenty years ago. Many of the followers have just drifted away – some were already doing so before it started.
The foundations of most religions were mystical stories and rituals repeated often enough to acquire an assumed validity. People love the ritual of worshipful ceremony and the music of great composers making praise a celebration of voice and discipline. They want to believe that they have not lost touch with those who have already departed, which is why they are reluctant to use the word death. Nor do they want their departure to be final or their consciousness to be expunged. These are fine and reasonable aspirations but following them must produce some reward in life.
Good Pope Francis recognised this as, I am sure, did many individual clerics who in their own domains have tried to be pastors to their people during a species-threatening pandemic. Far too many, however, have hidden away and neglected the opportunity to prove that religious belief actually works when it is needed most. It is part social, part confidence and part presence – even over Zoom – with people who know you and who think they inhabit a community of like-minded souls. Diversity didn’t mean you couldn’t like some and dislike others, it merely removed blatantly prejudicial reasons as the basis for doing either.
Your spirit isn’t in Facebook or LinkedIn. It isn’t in frenetic video games, increasing violence or mind-boggling personal interrelationships exhibited by gymnastic contortionists. Your spirit is first in the people around you. Look into their eyes and you will see God. Not the God of an old man in the clouds but the God of your next door neighbour. S/He is often the most demanding God of all. Love them and you will have perfected the art of generosity and adopted the soul of sanctity. They are the product of the greatest gift you can give anyone – freedom of choice.
The fact that they don’t exercise it wisely or decently all the time is the gift itself. To show our humanity best we love but to show it realistically we sometimes hate. When we start by removing hate from our vocabulary, we are progressing towards our goal of perfection. We won’t get there, of course – there is no finishing line. But to show progress is all that is required of us.
This is a plea to find our spirituality in things of the earth, things we live with, things we help to mould, people around us. To cherish what we have and to develop what we want are not incompatible. We need to know who we are but we don’t need to burrow forever further into ourselves. Our personna need to learn that looking out is better than looking in. We do not require torrents of prayers to do that. Kneeling for hours to recite prescribed statements brings us no closer to God than helping a friend in need or comforting someone who has lost their way.
The spirit is in you but becomes apparent only when you let it out for others.
Use it or lose it.