We are a trinity created in the image and likeness of God.
Patterns of three are all around us…the fingerprints of the Eternal.
But because of our fallenness, we normally dwell and see things from the perspective of our soul in a binary or dualistic frame of reference.
As most spiritual leaders and spiritual writings lump our soul and spirit together, the distinction between our soul and spirit is critical to the unfolding revelation of the Eternal in our lives. A good experiential understanding of our spirit tends to break our linear gridlock. We begin to see and function from a wholistic perspective. But we don’t suddenly become blind to what we’ve known.
To enter the wholeness of the spirit, we include the duality of our analytical mind and our body wisdom…we include and transcend them…there to live out of our spirit, in the broad spacious place of oneness with God our Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
This said, everything resolves in our heart.
Everything resolves in our heart.
Our heart is the fulcrum point of our lives. It’s the doorway into our spirit. It’s the garden of our soul. From our heart flow the springs of life. G-d has put a new heart and a new spirit within us.
So what of our soul?
Our soul deepens what our spirit experiences. It magnifies, nurtures, and puts flesh on it. Our soul is a wonderful servant and a terrible taskmaster. Our soul is like our very own Google search engine. It gets things done. But when our soul leads, we are driven, while our spirit leads us in eternal relationships.
So what is contemplation about?
Simply put, Contemplation is all about moving into our spirit encountering the eternal. Integration is the work of our heart through our soul.
“We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live our way into new ways of thinking.” ~ Richard Rohr
Let me say it as clearly and as I can, God is calling you and me up, to live out of our spirit. The conundrum is that we don’t know the difference between our soul and our spirit.
All spiritual growth is inside out. We live it before we understand it.
God is so far out of our realm of comprehension, it’s the only way we’ll ever get it. We’ve got to grow into it.
As gifts are given, fruit is grown and so is the mind of Christ within us. Jesus always had the eternal perspective on everything. Jesus was dwelling in eternity as he walked this earth. Jesus was God in the flesh, fully human and fully God. “Before Abraham was, I am“. The mind of Christ is dwelling with Jesus, fully awake and aware of what God is saying and doing as we’re living our life. Again, we grow the character and the mind of Christ as we ‘abide in the vine’.
But we still make our lists of religious rules and practices and think (think is the operative word here) that will get us there. We say, “Listen, I’ve been ‘Born-Again,’ I’ve been ‘Filled with the Holy Ghost,'” and we’re off to the races, trying to make it so.
We ignore things like Be holy, as we make our never ending lists of spiritual improvement. So we run around in the labyrinth of our soul with its thousand voices, trying to do what only our spirit can do…Be spiritual. So we end up with spiritual dysfunction, broken-hearted in a big mess…especially if you’re Holiness, Charismatic or Catholic. Yes, I know there are exceptions. We call them Saints. But this should not be.
All because we don’t know, discern, or are taught the difference between our soul and our spirit. So we are rule-bound to our systems, be they emotional or intellectual systems that create dependent, dysfunctional Christians by the score.
Our imperial top-down leadership systems were developed by our ‘souls’ way to stay in charge. ie our spiritual pride rules. Too far out? Think about it.
Look at Jesus. Look at how he led. Jesus always put people ahead of systems. In God’s economy, systems are meant to be under us to serve, not over us to rule, to maintain, and to propagate. Jesus leadership turns the world on its head.
Look at Adam, the human being, a living soul, who was born to rule, and blew it wide open.
Now, look at Jesus, the LAST Adam, a life-giving spirit, who was born to serve.
We’ve used fallen Adam as our model to Rule and subverted risen Jesus who is our model to Serve.
Soul-rule is top down, where things and people are managed.
Spirit-life works inside out, where things and people are transformed. In Jesus, we are life givers.
In our souls, we are managers, and in our spirits we are life-givers.
As life-givers, we plant the explosive seeds of God’s life, Jesus life, into the hearts of those who are ready or not.
Our systems are under our feet, to be used, not over our heads to rule our lives. This distinction is how the Kingdom of Heaven works…bottom up to win our hearts, and inside out to transform us.
The Spirituality of Grace
We all have those moments…those Aha’s when we’re startled, finding ourselves suddenly wide awake, in the spiritual flow. The energy, vibration, and resolution of focus is crystal clear. We see and understand things we never knew before. We are experiencing life on a whole other level. It’s electric.
Athletes feel the flow. It clarifies everything. In flow, an athlete’s awareness shifts from their body into their spirit by means of their breath.
In every state of flow our awareness is in our spirit.
And every discipline of passion opens us up to flow.
Monks, mystics, and sages have moments where the flow of the spirit sweeps them into the presence of God…in a shock of awareness, a spirituality of grace.
Flow is a state of being where we are connected to our spirit. Our spirit takes the lead in our normally soul-centered life.
Flow is a state we shift, into and our of, but we can also develop this state into a stage where we dwell. (ie states and stages of awareness). Jesus is always calling us up into this stage of abundant life. It’s the eternal life-flow of God, where spiritual life flows through us as we abide in the Vine.
Think about it. It’s that life-flow of God that grows the character of God within us…the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Where gifts are given through grace, fruit is grown through our intentionally abiding in this ‘flow,’ dwelling with our being in Jesus. This grows the eternal fruit of God. It’s mind blowing, but Jesus says, ‘apart from me you can do nothing.’
It’s only as we dwell in this eternal life-flow of God’s Spirit, that we are able to live an abundant life.
The Spirituality of Ebb and Flow
There is a danger among novices, where we want to stay in the flow, no matter what. It can be addictive. But in God’s design, there is an ebb and flow to spirituality.
There’s a rhythm to spirituality, an ebb and flow, an embracing and releasing as we yield to God’s choreography. This is where we ‘work out what God has worked within us’ during the flow. It’s like an ebb of the tides where the flow is withdrawn, so we can test and prove it in our lives. We integrate the transformation we’ve received. This is where we grow the character of God. It’s tested and proven true.
We also see the shambles of our brokenness, as if for the first time. It humbles us, solidifying our highs with a foundation in our lows. We grow in compassion.
So as we stand in the shambles of our brokenness, as if for the first time, the light of God’s love shines through the shards of our brokenness in a glorious display of splintered light.
God’s compassion breaks through us as we receive the healing that flows through us, and the flow draws our hearts into the presence of God in gratitude. So ebb reveals us as servants of God’s mercy and grace. We become the heart and soul, the hands and feet of Jesus to the world.
We give what we have been given: grace, mercy and forgiveness, and above all, the truth of God’s love, Jesus.
All Spirituality Works Inside Out
As a child who fingerpaints isn’t expected to be an artist, neither can we. We can’t expect to flow into the dance of God perfectly. Yet as we work out what God works within us, we grow and heal, bit by bit…love, joy, and peace become more apparent as who we really are.
Photo: mr__fox via Compfight
All Scripture is to bring us to Jesus who ushers us into the presence of God whereby, we are transformed.
If rule keeping could have gotten us there, we wouldn’t have needed Jesus. As it is, with Jesus, God puts a new heart and a new spirit within us.
I like to look at it like this: we have the seed of the Tree of Life being planted in the garden of our heart. Jesus is the tree of life. The Holy Spirit nourishes the seed in our garden, to sprout and grow and bear fruit within us. This whole process is spiritual and beyond our soul’s ability to comprehend, or to enter into because we blew it, eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, duality. It’s in our genetics. We need God’s transformation. So God is making it right here within us, if we can discern, die to our soul’s leadership, and enter in.
Here are a few Scriptures to help jog your deep thinking:
Again, because we don’t differentiate between our soul and our spirit, we are generally so busy in the labyrinth of our soul, we’re too busy to begin to even think of God. We serve God with our soul and we waste away and we don’t even know why.
It behooves us to learn to discern between our spirit and our soul, so that with our new heart, and our new spirit, we can restore our own spirit to its rightful place in our lives. Instead of being a soul-empowered person, we become a life-giving spirit, bearing Jesus.
Our analytical mind keeps us safely earthbound within the counsels of our soul, while our intuitive heart calls us out into the realms of our spirit to soar.
Yes, we need both, but our spirit must lead the way, if we are to ever begin living a spiritual life.
Our spirit is our vehicle to entering into eternity and into the presence of God. From there it is through our spirit that the eternal life of God manifests, and works out into our lives.
This is ‘the Why’ behind Jesus’ words, “Abide in me Apart from Jesus, our works are temporary, earthly, and need constant maintenance. But now we are citizens of heaven, spiritually empowered, we bring the life and even bear the presence of God. We bring heaven on earth. And as God is love, it is through God’s love that we live indeed.
As discernment is learned, here is some rough observations from my own spiritual practice.
Please Note: As the Psalmist tells us: the words of the Lord are refined seven times, so our words need to be refined again and again, hence ie ‘rough observations.’ ie we see and understand in part.
There are many ways we can learn to lean into, or to shift into our spirit. I know of 85 Christian spiritual practices and I’m sure there’s a lot more. I would, however, like us to focus on what I believe is the most natural and easiest way: our breath.
Spirit is our breath, our life, our life-force, our energy, essence, being, or our presence. We are all Human Beings. There are a lot of ways to describe our spirit, but the Scripture, both Hebrew and Greek, and most cultures agree on the meaning. For example, it’s qi in Chinese culture.
Through Breath Meditation, we can actually move our consciousness from our body into our spirit, avoiding the endless chatter of our mind altogether. This takes some time to develop, as our old self-tends to rise up and take dominance. But dying to our old self, ie our fallen self, is critical to living to our new self, our whole self in God. It’s why the Apostle Paul said, I die daily. It’s the first step in any good spiritual practice. It’s what confession is about. It’s getting ourselves out of the way. In Eastern practices, they call it, emptying ourselves of ourselves. But however we frame it, ‘the old man must die’, to use King James terminology.
Note: This breath practice is to activate our spirit, not necessarily to bring us into God’s presence, though that can happen it’s not the focus for now.
Tapping into Wholeness
As our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, we’ve become a sacred place in this world. Instead of going to a Holy Place, we’ve become a Holy Place. Selah: Live as the temple of God you are. This is apart from gathering together. ie the Body of Christ. Here we’re looking at the spiritual reality, ‘we’ve moved from going to a sacred place, to becoming one’, you are entering into your inner room, (your spirit) and closing the door (on your soul).
Now, the heart of who you really are is your breath, your spirit. And here we are, in our spirit, with God’s ‘gift’ transforming us, the Holy Spirit. Awakening our spirit is critical to living a spiritual life. Awake O Sleeper! Arise from the dead Paul encourages us.
The Divine Exchange
- Our breath is a vehicle of our spirit. Our breath becomes a holy exchange of receiving and releasing, of embracing and letting go, as we breathe in and out. Our focus is on experiencing the eternal in our embracing and letting go. Without dying to our old self and surrendering to God, our small mind, will keep us busy for days. That’s why it’s been called ‘the monkey mind’.
- So relax, sit in an upright comfortable position, in a quiet, undisturbed place. Close your eyes and focus solely on your breath, your spirit. Focus on how it feels expanding and releasing your essence. You are releasing yourself. Falling into God. ‘Higher up and further in’ as CS Lewis put it. It’s not something to achieve. It’s something to be experienced. Feel your way in. Let your intuitive heart guide you in. You are entering the source, the headwaters, the seat of your being. The place where you dwell. Just breathe, focus and let it all fall apart into a greater grace.
- Our spirit-centered breathing becomes our vehicle into the eternal and into the presence of God.
- In our heart-centered breathing, we become the presence where we can feel the eternal flowing through our lives, thus begins the integration of the love and character of God into our lives, and yes, it’s all through Jesus.
- Set aside twenty minutes in the morning and in the evening allowing God to speak as you open your heart in simply breathing. It’s not rocket science. But it takes being intentional.
As To Spiritual States and Stages
Wrapping it up, here are a few more insights to help you deepen your understanding of what goes on in spiritual practice.
There are different spiritual states and stages and they are as varied and as unique as we are. God meets us exactly where we are in our spiritual journey. You don’t have to work it up. We’re not talking about ‘soul states’, but spiritual ones. Most of us are familiar with only a few of them.
- Like when the pastor’s preaching gets in the Zone.
- Or when the worship begins moving us into a rocking loving embrace.
- Or when God floods our spirit during the Eucharist.
This reminds me of the Brownsville Revival. For me, when I walked in, it was like walking in a cloud, vast, thick, and transcendent. People didn’t want to leave and would sit into the wee hours of the morning, smiling in grateful wonder and peace. It’s like soaking in the presence of God. God was doing some deep healing in those moments.
But these are ‘spiritual states’ we move into and out of. They eventually fade away into distant memories. ‘States’ aren’t permanent, though their transformation can be.
Now please get this: When a ‘spiritual state’ becomes integrated into our lives, it becomes ‘a stage’, a platform from which we live and dwell in. And isn’t that what God intended for us from the beginning, to dwell with him in abundant life forever?
The flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, and the cooing of doves is heard in our land.
The core of all spirituality is dying to our self that we might live to our new self, in the life and the quality of life which is eternal, abundant, and whole.
This is the heart of the Incarnation…God in the flesh, and now Jesus in you and me.
For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
So no matter where you are, no matter what you’re going through, God is there.
May God awaken you to his Presence.
May the grace of God awaken you to Jesus Presence within you.
May the love of God awaken you to His Presence around you.
And may the fellowship of God awaken you to the Holy Spirit’s Presence among you,
and give you eternal peace.