Leonardo Boff, August 27, 2012
The deepness dimension: spirit and spirituality
The human being doesn’t just have exteriority, which is his expression in body. Nor just interiority, which is his inner psychic universe. He is also equipped with deepness, which is his spiritual dimension.
The spirit is not a part of the human being alongside the others. It is the entire human being who, through his conscience, finds himself belonging to a Whole and as an integral part of it. Through the spirit, we have the ability to go beyond mere appearances, what we see, hear, think and love. We can grasp the other side of things, their deepness. Things are not just “things.” The spirit grasps in them symbols and metaphors of another reality, present in them but not confined to them because it overflows from them on all sides. They recall, point and refer to another dimension, which we call deepness.
So, a mountain is not just a mountain. By being a mountain, it conveys the sense of majesty. The sea evokes grandeur, the starry sky, vastness, the deep grooves of an old man’s face, the hard struggle for life, and the bright eyes of a child, life’s mystery.
It is for the human being, a spirit bearer, to perceive values and meanings and not just list facts and acts. Indeed, what really matters to people isn’t so much the things that happen to them but what they mean for their lives and what kind of marking experiences they provided them.
Everything that happens bears, existentially, a symbolic, or we could even say, sacramental. Goethe himself finely noted: “All that is transitory is but a sign” (Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Zeichen”). It is for the sign-sacrament to make present a greater transcendent meaning, accomplish it in the individual and make it the object of experience. In this sense, every event reminds us of what we have experienced and nourishes our deepness.
So we fill our homes with photos and beloved objects of our parents, grandparents, relatives and friends, of all those who come into our lives and who have meaning to us. It may be the last shirt worn by the father who died of a heart attack at just 54 years of age, the wooden comb of the beloved grandmother who passed away years ago, the dried leaf in a book sent by a lover full of nostalgia. These things aren’t just objects; they’re sacraments that speak to our deepness. They remind us of loved ones or significant events in our lives.
The Spirit enables us to experience non-duality, well described by Zen Buddhism. “You are the world, you are the whole” say the Upanishads of India as the guru points to the universe. Or “you are everything” as many yogis say. “The Kingdom of God (Malkuta d’Alaha or “the Guiding Principles of All”) is within you” Jesus declared. These statements refer us to a living experience rather than a simple doctrine.
The basic experience is that we are tied and tied again (religados, the root of the word “religion”) to each other, and all of us to the Original Source. A thread of energy, life and consciousness goes through all beings making them a cosmos rather than chaos, symphony rather than cacophony. Blaise Pascal who, besides being a mathematics genius was a mystic too, said meaningfully: “It is the heart which perceives God, not reason” (Pensées, frag. 277). This type of experience transfigures everything. Everything is permeated with veneration and unction.
Religions live on this spiritual experience. They come after it. They express it in doctrines, rituals, celebrations, and ethical and spiritual paths. Their primary function is to create and offer the necessary conditions to allow all people and communities to submerge into the divine reality and achieve a personal experience of the Creator Spirit. Unfortunately many of them have become sick from fundamentalism and doctrinalism that impede spiritual experience.
This experience, precisely because it’s experience and not doctrine, radiates serenity and deep peace, accompanied by the absence of fear. We feel loved, embraced and welcomed into the Divine Bosom. What happens to us, happens to us in his love. Death itself doesn’t scare us; we assume it as part of life and as the big alchemical moment of transformation that allows us to be truly in the All, in the heart of God. We need to go through death to live longer and better.
Leonardo Boff is the author of Espiritualidade: caminho de realização. Vozes 2003. His blog is multi-lingual and posts can be found in Portuguese, Italian, German, English, and Spanish.