Free associating about the word spirit. Team spirit. Full of spirit. Spirited. Dispirited. Not material. Not tangible. Lively. Full of life. Enlivening. The Holy Spirit.
So much has been written and sung about something no one can see or touch. Yet how many of us have experienced the spirit of an audience moved to give a standing ovation? Cheering with other fans at a game? Engaging in a common project? Profoundly moved—as an individual or group at a religious service or in the presence of beauty? Face-to-face with mysteries like birth or death? Feeling the spirit of a place?
What is this phenomenon we call spirit? Why is it so essential for many of us across cultures and millennia? The more I accompany individuals in this work of spiritual direction, the more I am drawn to learn more about the essence that infuses dogmas, rituals, statues, and buildings.
One place to look is in childhood experiences that live in memory decades later. Though perhaps somewhat shaped by family religious life, there is often a vividness, an originality, an impression of an event. It might be buried under layers of education. It might be relegated to boxes of childhood stuff. It might be written off as pure imagination. Still, as Professor Dumbledore says to Harry Potter (The Deathly Hollows):
“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”