Spirits in the Material World

(I’ll veer away from politics, economics and the like today for a different kind of post)

On March 1, 1960 at 7:47 PM I entered this world.   As I recall, the light was far too bright, the air too cold, and the need to do things like eat and breath positively annoying.   But I’ve gotten used to that, and the eating bit has turned out to be much more pleasant than I expected.   Yet even after fifty years, I can’t shake the feeling that life in this world is very limiting and somewhat weird.

To quote The Police I believe we are spirits in the material world.   The reason that things get frustrating and induce anger, despair, anxiety and dissatisfaction is that this world is not really our home.   Yet, it’s the only world I know.    I find myself, therefore, pulled in two different directions.   Part of me feels a connection to that spiritual realm — something hard to convey in the language of this space-time reality.  It’s a sense that everything does make sense, there is a complex and paradoxical order to the world, perhaps like a great musical masterpiece.   When I feel that, it becomes easier to go through the daily hum drum routine, and annoyances and problems that arise.

The other side of me is firmly in this world, materialist with a desire for justice.   That part of me gets angry at injustice, wants to fight against exploitation and limits on human freedom.   That part of me takes politics seriously, worries about my children, gets mad when friends are mistreated, exercises and goes on diets to feel and look better, and takes on overload assignments to earn more money.   I am a consumer and I often indulge myself without regard to others, the environment, or the consequences of my actions.

These two sides of me sometimes flow together and complement each other, sometimes they pull me in different directions.    At my worst, the spiritual side leads me to escapism, dampens my concern about the world, and encourages material self-indulgence.   This was more common when I was younger —  at those times I would hope for a miracle or some kind of change to sweep into my life and unite the spiritual world I know exists, that could fill me with contentment and a sense of meaning,  with the material reality that can seem so boring and meaningless, yet also so tempting.

At my best my spiritual self can give perspective to my material self.   It can keep me from over-reacting, help me fight battles for justice and liberation without falling into a kind of manically true believer mentality, and can separate out differences of opinion on politics with personal animosity.   That self can bring balance to my material existence, and show me how to value friends, family, community and not get caught up in the ambitions and petty distractions of the world.

My spiritual self says, “Scott, this isn’t home, this isn’t true reality, this existence doesn’t matter, it’s gone in a flash, has no permanence, and all that matters here is what’s spiritually inside.”   This part of me would be happy as a monk in pre-renaissance Europe, with an Augustinian notion that I may be in the world, but not of it.   My material self says, “home or not, I’m here, and there must be a reason for it.   I’m here and this is the world I need to deal with.”

I need both sides.   Only my spiritual side gives me a real sense of love, moving beyond lust or instinct.  My material side gives me a sense of purpose in this world, pushing aside my escapist urge.   The good thing about getting older is I find the two sides of me swimming together rather than pulling me in different directions.   Life is good.   The world is full of ugliness, but that ugliness isn’t reality, it’s a material reflection of both our (as in humanity) and my own imperfections and limits.   I can’t change the world, but I can change myself.  And the better I try to live in accord with my principles and values, and more likely I can help change a small section of the world — and that’s all any of us can do.

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  1. #1 by Striker on March 3, 2010 - 08:32

    Very interesting perspective Scott. Me being a Christian and all, finds your perspective much closer then you might think to my perspective. I personally want to help change the world (no matter how small of a piece of the world that it might be), but I truly think that it starts with a evaluation of me as a individual.

    Most Christians think of our flesh(material side), as being evil and our soul (spiritual side), as being good. I think I agree with you that we need a bit of both. Of course we have to feed ourselves and take care of our body but what I think truly fulfills us is what we do for others. I think when we are good to others and pursue our gifts, we are pursuing out spiritual side. I would argue that our love for our family has just as much to do with our spiritual side as our Material side.

    Anyway, you really have something I probably need to read again and think a little more on. Very thought provoking post 🙂

    • #2 by Scott Erb on March 3, 2010 - 17:25

      Thanks for the comment. My views are shaped very much by the fact I was raised a Christian and still hold a belief system in line with many Christian teachings. I think what caused me to cease identifying with the faith is the issue of exclusivity. Why can’t one believe the Christian faith without having to dismiss other religions as wrong? If someone is born in Cairo, he has little chance of salvation. Would a loving God really put so much on the culture you are born into? So I have a bible (and a Koran and a few other spiritual books) in my office, and consult them at times. I like to think of all religions as correct to the extent they embrace God’s love, even if there are disagreements about what “God” means. I also believe all faiths can be corrupted by humans.

      I know Muslims whose faith is very much a part of who they are, and I know Christians who put a lot of stock in their personal relationship with God through Jesus. I want to respect both, I think the reality of how people express and experience God’s love is more important than the physical story behind it.

  2. #3 by Striker on March 4, 2010 - 07:44

    I am very close to thinking the same way you do Scott. I actually am doing a few blogs on God’s everlasting love and how that can NOT coexist with Everlasting Judgment. I am tired of Christians thinking their religion (based more often by their doctrine then the actual Bible) is completly right and others are completely wrong.

    I can not look at my Muslim, Buddhist, and Atheist friends and say that they know nothing of God. Often I find that they know more about parts of God then I do.

    I have done some major studying into “Hell” in the Bible. I have found that we have miss interpreted A LOT and there is no such thing as a Eternal Hell. It is a

  3. #4 by Striker on March 4, 2010 - 07:53

    (sorry I clicked “Submit” accidentally before I was done)

    …It is a frustrating thing to debate with fellow Christians about the topic of Eternal Punishment however. The problem I think is that most Christians are not willing to follow logic. It does not matter what I say or how much I have studied, they mostly throw me off as being “deceived”.

    I guess I still call myself a Christian because I believe in most of the Bible and the story of Jesus dieing and rising again for our sins. I can diffidently see where you are coming from, and agree with you that expressing and experiencing God’s love is more important then who thinks they are right or not.

  4. #5 by garrett&cole on July 21, 2010 - 18:38

    i we think we have spirits in our house, and my friends house does to, things have been moving out of place in both of our houses. from,garrett/cole

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