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What are the Divine, Spirit, Soul, & the Sacred? – Part 1: Spirit

mountaintop view, seeing endless size of earth and sky - Nevada

In another set of posts – What is Spirituality? Why Do We Need It? – we explore a definition of spirituality as the art, science, and craft of:

  • integrating our hearts, minds, and movements into a holistic way of life, thus

  • being fully human and

  • discovering the Divine

Let's explore what it means to "discover the Divine." Many of us are fortunate to have had ample experiences of this, and can readily imagine what I mean by this phrase. But many of us also haven’t had many – or any – experiences we can clearly identify as “discovering the Divine.” Or such experiences have been so fleeting and disconnected from each other that this phrase can be hard to relate to.

To make things easier, let’s break it down: what do we mean by “the Divine?” In answering this question, I’ve found it can be helpful to explore definitions for three distinct but connected aspects of the Divine: Spirit, Soul, and the Sacred. These also offer three directions from which people tend to approach cultivating their spirituality. So what are Spirit, Soul, and the Sacred?

Before proceeding – if you are someone who has trouble with the belief that the Divine, Spirit, Soul, and the Sacred exist, please know that I personally believe they do, but I also believe there is lot of value in considering that they might not, or in remaining neutral on the question. I invite you to read these posts on secularism and hope, and to read on, seeing what gets stirred up.


starting on path toward giant mountain - Mt. St. Helens Volcanic Monument, Washington

The word “spirit” is sometimes used synonymously with Soul, to refer to something belonging to a unique individual person, e.g. someone with an “independent spirit” or someone’s ghost. I’d like to draw us toward an alternative, more capital-S notion of Spirit, akin to the Great Spirit of many American Indian spiritualities or the Holy Spirit of Christianity. We can say Spirit is the transcendent yet immanent source:

  • from/in/of which reality was and is created

  • by/through/with which it evolves, and

  • into/toward which we hope it returns and progresses.

In other words, Spirit is our ultimate origin, commonality, and destiny; it is thus singular and whole unto itself. There are countless other names people use here: Allah, Brahman, Creator, Christ, God, Goddess, Mystery, Nature, Reality, Source, the Tao, YHWH, etc. Each of these seem to point to a similar awareness we all have of a Being or Consciousness – a Someone or Something – which is bigger than anything and beyond understanding. Yet we belong to it.

Because of the inherent, overwhelming size and inexplicableness of this Spirit, it can be difficult for us to interact with, and it doesn’t help that religious texts and institutions too often mistakenly gate-keep our relationship to it. Further, for many people, the reality of suffering can call the supposed power, love, consciousness, and even existence of Spirit into question. We can end up feeling like this supposed source of everything is too remote, esoteric, and uncaring – too transcendent – to offer us tangible meaning.

But Spirit is also imminentintimately present everywhere, all the time. By truly recognizing this, we change our entire perception.

boulder at base of mountain same shape as mountain itself - Great Basin National Park, USA

Spirit is – and its permeating power, love, and consciousness are – ever-present, even in suffering. Spirit is present even in egotistical individuals and imperial constructs (if they truly recognized this, and recognized Spirit all around them, they wouldn’t be so egotistical or imperial). Spirit is present in everything and everyone. Spirit is even present in you. How do we know all this? And how then do we explain misery, oppression, ego, and empires, in which Spirit seems absent? We explore these essential questions elsewhere in this Articles of Faith series.

For now, we can simply acknowledge that all things – beings, places, objects, and relationships – are created, evolving, returning, and progressing. All share a common origin, commonality, and destiny. All share in a universal power, love, and consciousness, and can thus share these gifts with each other. And these shared gifts and dynamics are good – because without them there would be no-thing – indicating that Spirit too, the enabler of existence, is good.

When we begin to look at Spirit’s goodness, presence, or Divinity in everything, and thus particular places, objects, and relationships too, we begin to approach awareness of the Sacred. And when we begin to look at Spirit’s goodness, presence, or Divinity in everyone – including you – we begin to approach awareness of the Soul, to which we turn next.

Along the way, I offer you some reflection questions:

  • How have you “discovered the Divine” in your life?

  • How do you relate to Spirit?

  • How have you felt Spirit’s intimate presence and permeating power, love, and consciousness in everything and everyone?

  • How have you shared these gifts with others?



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