Blue Coat School 22/5/2002
The word spirit is quite popular these days. You can see this in any high street bookshop where there will be a spirituality section, containing books on all sorts of different ways of fortifying your inner self. Transcendental practice, meditation, T'ai Chi, even Christian ecology: studying these can help you develop your spirituality.
Of course, those aren't eveybody's cup of tea. But one thing is certain: we all have spirituality; spirit is everywhere, it is high, wide, and deep inside us, it touches us all at some point.
Like its counterparts in Hebrew and Greek, the Latin word spiritus originally meant breath (as in expire, respiratory, and so on), and breath is what you have when you're alive and don't have when you're dead.
So spirit = breath = life, the aliveness and power of your life, and if you talk about your spirit (or soul) you are speaking of the power of life that is in you. When your spirit is unusually strong, the life in you unusually alive, you can breathe it out into other lives, become literally in-spiring.
Spirit is highly contagious. When people are very excited, very happy, very sad, you can catch it from them as easily as measles or a yawn. You can catch it from what they say or from what they do or just from what happens to the air of a room when they enter it without saying or doing anything. Think about someone whose spirit you have caught; how that affected you.
Groups also have a spirit, as anybody can testify who has ever been caught up in the spirit of a football game, a political rally, or a big concert. Spirit can be good or bad, healing or destructive. Spirit can be transmitted across great distances of time and space. For better or worse, you can catch the spirit of people long dead (saints or sinners), of people whose faces you have never seen and whose languages you cannot speak.
God also has a spirit‹God is Spirit, says the Apostle John. This is a hard one to grasp but think about it - God is the power of the power of life itself, God has breathed and continues to breathe into God's own creation. In-spires it.
The spirit of God, Holy Spirit, Holy Ghost, is highly contagious. When Peter and his friends were caught up in the Spirit at Jerusalem on Pentecost, everybody thought they were drunk even though it was only nine o'clock in the morning. They were.
And so, a final point about the Spirit - it is surprising, sometimes unsettling. Like a wild wind, the Spirit blows where she wills. We can develop our spirituality by reading deep books and applying what we learn to our inner lives, or we can simply step out into each day consciously inhaling a deep breath of Spirit, God's gift, to help us on our way.
Adapted from Frederick Buechner: Wishful Thinking, a Seeker's ABC