I did not name my blog, Travels of a New Christian, just to note that I am a new Christian in need of learning. That is very true, but more so, it is because learning requires traveling; both physically and spiritually. Whether it is as a child or teen walking to school and stepping out the paces from one class room to the next; or visiting a museum, taking in a play, seeing a movie, strolling along a beach’s tide line, camping in a forest; or perhaps just rocking gently in one’s backyard hammock and watching nature evolve before one’s eyes, travel is always the catalyst for learning. You have to move to groove.
Now I could easily contend, and I do, that with each spark or impulse that jumps the gap of our synapses is also one step of a journey that not only the mind and body takes, but also the spirit potential. We are all travelers by design of God. It is He who has divined our foot falls throughout our lives. I see that now clearly, though it has taken me close to six years to come to this truth and know it for what it is; not only faith, but also knowledge. For faith comes from what is heard, while knowledge comes from what is learned. Yes, faith is required for salvation, and faith is also the precursor to the knowledge that will bring us perfection in the world to come. It is by our travels that we discover both faith and knowledge, and hopefully distill our imperfect natures to perfect by its essence of wisdom. And so in traveling we have the opportunity of the unification of our spirit, our intellect, and our body.
I came across an interesting statistic recently. In 2009, the Barna Group polled American Christians, and their results yielded the following:
In regards to the Holy Spirit, 58% of all Christians either strongly or moderately believe that the Holy Spirit is “a symbol of God’s power or presence but is not a living entity.” Ponder this concept. Central to the Christian faith is a belief in the Trinity – the belief that God is three distinct persons of one substance or essence. Yet, it’s faithful, at least 58% of them, believe in the clearly diminished or symbolic role of the Holy Spirit. Only 33% affirmed a belief that the Holy Spirit was indeed a person – a living entity – with a full 9% without an expressible opinion at all; nearly one-in-ten Christians do not know what to think.
This seemingly odd statistic caused me to ponder the whole idea of the spirit; not of God’s, but of man’s. In truth, there is little offered on the subject of man’s spirit. Neither bible nor catechism teaches much on the subject directly. While libraries are dedicated to the theology of Christianity and the methodologies of salvation, there is little theology on the nature of man’s spirit and little methodology that clarifies the nature and role of a man’s spirit. I know the spirit exists; not just because of the rhyme that the bible tells me so, but more so because I have led the past few years in the pursuit of my spirit. I can happily state that it is much better off now than it was previously, and that my spirit still has a long way to go before it has a firm handle on the rudder of my choices.
In examining the nature of my spirit, I have come to realize that I believe in a variation of the tripartite concept of man. Now tripartite refers to the concept that man is composed of three distinct elements or parts: the body, soul, and spirit. I honestly see a different reality.
I believe there is a body that exists in the physical world and is subject to all Natural Laws and events. The body is what is seen in the physical world. The body does not experience existence, but merely exists as a substance with a particular order; like any animate or inanimate substance or object. The body however is responsible for manifesting knowledge in a physical realm. A new body is created by parent bodies through sexual reproduction. A body is mortal.
I believe there is within the body what is called a mind or an intellect. We view the mind as non-physical, though we acknowledge that it is the result of the biological and chemical events that occur within the brain processes. As such it is inherently physical.
The mind experiences existence. It is conscious – it perceives through reasoning – of the body’s existence, its own consciousness as a reasoning force, and the physical and spiritual realms about it; to one degree or another. It ‘experiences’ more so than merely ‘senses’, as our physical senses do; ‘experiences’ referring to the ability to reason or judge sensory input, converting it into a knowledge that becomes the foundation of choice for an individual. Touching a flame and sensing pain does nothing to inhibit the body from touching the flame again. It is the mind that creates the habit of avoiding the flame, not the nerve endings on a finger.
The mind, or intellect, is created along with the body, and is indivisible with the body. It is mortal.
The mind is that portion of man that has free will or choice to act as one decides through reasoning of one’s own experiences, while the body then carries out the choice of the mind. The mind and body is that part of man that can choose to disobey God’s condition of love and manifest that choice in the physical realm, as it is that part of a man that has no restraints to the liberty of perfection; the expression of God’s natural law. Thus, the mind/body has the ability to sin.
I believe there is within the body what is referred to as a spirit. This is a spiritual element that is, or was, divinely created separate from the body and mind, and is eternal. Three options for the existence of the spirit would be that God creates a spirit at the moment He places that spirit within a conceived life (creationism), or that all spirits were made at some point preceding their use by God (pre-existence), or that the spirit is produced by the parents of the new human (traducianism). The Catholic Church has rejected the latter two in favor of the first assertion.
“The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God—it is not “produced” by the parents—and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.” CCC366
I believe that a spirit is perfect in that it cannot sin. It is that “image of God” that is stated in the book of Genesis three times; Genesis 1:26–28, Genesis 5:1–3, and Genesis 9:6. In man’s choice to do evil in the world, it is not the spirit that participates in such thought, word, or action. One’s spirit is the immutable link to God and is the librarian, one might say, of God’s will and Word. In other words, all of mankind knows the difference between good and evil from the moment of their conception. That knowledge is the resultant essence of the spirit, and thus makes its presence and influence upon the mind and body the essential part to salvation and sanctification.
It appears logical the following argument. If Christianity is to assert that at some moment in time God creates a spirit within each new human body, then it would follow that this element – the spirit – is “good” as all things that God creates is good.
To make an argument that a spirit can be “bad” would be illogical to the Character of God and His actions. There are some who believe in the pre-existence of souls or spirits, and that God places them into the bodies of humans at their conception or sometime afterwards. They further might argue that these spirits can choose between good and evil before they are placed into a new body; hence scriptural references to God’s knowledge of who is good or evil prior to their ability to act; like Jacob and Esau. This seems illogical with one simple question put forward. Why would God place an evil spirit within the new body of a new human?
The historical concept of tripartite assumes the term “soul”. I suggest it to be a vague reference to the bond God created in enjoining a spirit into the unity of the mind and the body. Scripture – both Old and New Testament – does little to give the term “soul” a clear definition. Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church acknowledges some confusion of definition; see Paragraph 6., II., 362-368. I propose, therefore, the soul might just represent the tripartite unity within man – the body, the mind, and the spirit – that has the capacity and desire to share in God’s life and creation, and it is through this union that man possesses the ability to unite the physical and spiritual realms.
As all three elements co-exist within one man, there must be a singular balance between the three elements for each person that promotes one’s good relationship with God, and as simple observation of history and current events details lavishly, this is apparently a most difficult balance to achieve. The mind/body – being corruptible – causes sin to take place in the world. The spirit – being in the image of God – is without sin; unlikely compatriots for any cause of good.
For a person to minimize sin in their lives it would follow that the person encourages the spirit to leadership of the unity described. This would be defined as that proverbial “angel on one’s shoulder”, where one carefully and obediently follows the good counsel of the “angel”. I do not mean to minimize the work of the Holy Spirit in this matter of good counsel, but rather hope to emphasize the linkage between one’s own spirit and that of the Holy Spirit. Think of it as using the “cloud” to store your data. As one’s spiritual connection to God is permanent, so too is one’s access to God’s data. In essence, one’s spirit is God’s Spirit, and the flow of the Holy Spirit is the data flow of God’s conscience.
For a person who chooses to lead a life of sin unrepentant, it would require an effort to diminish the presence and influence of their own spirit as a reasoning factor for their mind to consider and weigh judiciously. With a spirit strong of presence and influence, it would constitute a constant reprobation for an individual seeking their own personal desires at the expense of others. There would be a certain and nagging imperative to put away such a counsel.
In reverse, it reminds me of what Jesus had to say to Peter a short while before the Christ headed to His fate in Jerusalem. Jesus has imparted to the apostles His need to enter Jerusalem, suffer at the hands of His enemies, die and be resurrected on the third day. Jesus was always reflecting God’s Spirit in all ways, and He was doing so here. Peter, however, viewed this revelation from the perspective of the body and mind. He wanted to protect Jesus, to achieve the results for immediate life without the necessary sacrifice required to continue life, and so Peter rebuked Jesus for speaking so. Jesus was clear:
“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Jesus, being the incarnation, had the capacity to speak in such a manner and mean it. Jesus is simply stating a fact; that the concerns of God are best addressed through the spirit and not through the mind or body. This is, of course, the constant theme of all of Jesus’ teachings; live by the spirit.
I’m not sure any human has that capacity. One’s spirit rarely enjoys such a lofty authority over one’s mind and body. Monasteries exist for the sole function of enabling a person to lead a spiritual life through the abstinence of the worldly offerings. Monks do this in that pursuit; to lift the spirit over the fallen inclinations of the mind and the body. It’s a tough life for those who seek it and an impossible life for those who believe the world has more to offer than God.
What the human can do, though, is speak with similar conviction when they incline their mind and body to exert such authority over their tripartite partner; the spirit. Being “fallen” means just that; the dominance of the mind and body over the spirit. It is the essential quality of unrepentant man, the most misunderstood aspect of Jesus’ teachings, and the least discussed.
I mean misunderstood because of the necessity of man to live by the spirit and not of the flesh or the intellect. In living by the spirit, there is a truth that pervades one’s experience; that all things are of and by God, and that true liberty of man is found not in a lack of restraints and an embrace of personal desire, but rather in a freedom from the oppression that unrestrained desires bring to a mortal man. Man cannot separate himself on any level from the absolute truths that God has defined creation and mankind with. The further we step away from God’s truths, the greater our consciences bellow in our mind’s ear like the Greek perversion of woman and bull, the Minotaur. In our prideful and ferocious labyrinth of sin, the last thing any man or woman wants to acknowledge is their spirit; that image of God within us. There is little wonder that Jesus was to suffer and die upon the cross. He was the perfect reflection of spirit, and thus a reminder of man’s desire to escape true communion with God and man in favor of individual despotism.
Few will like what I say next, but I sense that man’s desires intrude greatly into the function of the Church; rendering it somewhat of a facsimile of itself. Man hopes to obey God, but he also hopes to not gaze too deeply into the labyrinth I just mentioned. To do so is to face conviction by the Holy Spirit, and to recognize the limits one has placed upon their own spirit within. This reluctance animates man to reflect more so upon the ritual than the spiritual. The Church as seen as one body is the proper vision, but with a focus upon the ritual, the spirit is rendered as neutral to the task of preparing the individual to be part of that one body of the Church.
In being neutral, there appears little purpose for the spirit, and with little purpose, the spirit is easily dismissed by the more immediately satisfying accomplishments of the mind and body. We call it pride. It can be argued that the mind and body is best suited to leadership of the tripartite being. The mind and body are modeled for the proposed truth that the society, the one body, is the engine by which the individual thrives. I contend the truth is just the opposite. I contend that the individual, the spirit, is the sole force for the good of the society. A free and forceful spirit – in authority over the mind and body – naturally expresses the will of God, and in so doing acts as a model for other individuals to do likewise. This is evangelization. A strong spirit guides the individual to align with natural, moral, and just civil law; pointing in the singular direction of God’s will and purpose for our lives. Coercion by the mind and body for the short haul, the immediate fix, cannot prepare the individual for the long and arduous task of conforming to God’s liberty over man’s freedom.
There is a reason God walked His people the long way to Canaan. We prefer to see it as a punishment for man’s disobedience, when indeed it can be suggested that God merely knew something man did not. The road to redemption is a road best suited for the spirit.