“We no longer want merely to believe; we want to know. Belief demands the acceptance of truths which we do not fully comprehend. But things we do not fully comprehend are repugnant to the individual element in us, which wants to experience everything in the depths of its inner being. The only knowledge which satisfies us is one which is subject to no external standards but springs from the inner life of the personality…One must be able to confront an idea and experience it; otherwise one will fall into its bondage.”
– Rudolf Steiner
Life of the Soul
No definition of soul would be complete without spirit. In all honestly, spirit has been one of the more difficult words for me to experientially grasp, primarily due to its many uses and the theological “beliefs” that I have held from my earliest remembrance.
Spirit is a synergistic word intended to express the sum of mankind’s intellectual composition and is characteristically responsible for motion in the soul leading to action in the body.
People often use the word soul and spirit interchangeable to label the immortal part or essence of personhood that exist beyond death. Some go as far as to devise incredibly complex philosophical arguments in attempts to demonstrate the indestructible nature of human essence. For me, it is enough to know by faith, not philosophy, that something of my personhood is accountable beyond death. Therefore I will concede the immortal aspect of spirit/soul without dwelling on it for now.
What I find most interesting about the word spirit is how many confusing and contrary doctrines have crept into modern day Christendom based on the ambiguity of the word and cultivated by a mortal desire to have a one-size-fits-all explanation for everything. The fact remains, that spirit cannot be treated so carelessly as to mold the word into any specific doctrine without watering down its meaning. Keep in mind that spirit is the sum total of many distinct parts of the human intellect, yet the word, used loosely, can be applied in a variety of ways without ever revealing its complete meaning, much less its experiential truth.
“The spirit of man is the lamp of the LORD, searching all his innermost parts.”
- Proverbs 20:27
A Thinking Thing
Rene Descartes writes the following in Meditation II on First Philosophy. “But what, then, am I? A thinking thing, it has been said. But what is a thinking thing? It is a thing that doubts, understands, [conceives], affirms, denies, wills, refuses; that imagines also, and perceives. Assuredly it is not little, if all these properties belong to my nature. But why should they not belong to it? Am I not that very being who now doubts of almost everything; who, for all that, understands and conceives certain things; who affirms one alone as true, and denies the others; who desires to know more of them, and does not wish to be deceived; who imagines many things, sometimes even despite his will; and is likewise percipient of many, as if through the medium of the senses. Is there nothing of all this as true as that I am, even although I should be always dreaming, and although he who gave me being employed all his ingenuity to deceive me? Is there also any one of these attributes that can be properly distinguished from my thought, or that can be said to be separate from myself? For it is of itself so evident that it is I who doubt, I who understand, and I who desire, that it is here unnecessary to add anything by way of rendering it more clear. And I am as certainly the same being who imagines; for although it may be (as I before supposed) that nothing I imagine is true, still the power of imagination does not cease really to exist in me and to form part of my thought. In fine, I am the same being who perceives, that is, who apprehends certain objects as by the organs of sense, since, in truth, I see light, hear a noise, and feel heat. But it will be said that these presentations are false, and that I am dreaming. Let it be so. At all events it is certain that I seem to see light, hear a noise, and feel heat; this cannot be false, and this is what in me is properly called perceiving (sentire), which is nothing else than thinking.” – Rene Descartes
This Something is Thinking (Rudolf Steiner, on Freiheit)
“This percept (observation) of self would remain merely one among many other percepts, if something did not arise from the midst of this percept of self which proves capable of connecting all percepts with one another and, therefore, the sum of all other percepts with the percept of our own self. This something which emerges is no longer merely percept; neither is it, like percepts, simply given. It is produced by our activity. To begin with, it appears to be bound up with what we perceive as our own self. In its inner significance, however, it transcends the self. To the separate percepts it adds ideally determined elements, which, however, are related to one another, and are rooted in a totality. What is obtained by perception of self is ideally determined by this something in the same way as are all other percepts, and is placed as subject, or “I”, over against the objects. This something is thinking, and the ideally determined elements are the concepts and ideas…
One only avoids the confusion into which one falls through the critical attitude based on this naïve standpoint, if one notices that, inside everything we can experience by means of perceiving, be it within ourselves or outside in the world, there is something which cannot suffer the fate of having a mental picture interpose itself between the process and the person observing it. This something is thinking…
We might very easily be led to such a view by the observation that, in contrast to dreaming, there is indeed the waking state in which we have the opportunity of seeing through our dreams and referring them to the real relations of things, but that there is no state of the self which is related similarly to our waking conscious life. Whoever takes this view fails to see that there is, in fact, something which is related to mere perceiving in the way that our waking experience is related to our dreaming. This something is thinking…
For Steiner, the spirit is experienced directly in the act of intuitive thinking. The human spirit is that part of us that thinks, but the spiritual world is not limited to the personal field of the individual human being; it opens out to embrace the eternal truths of existence” Spiritual activity “is thus more than mental activity, although it starts at a level we would call mental; it leads the human being, aware of himself as a spirit, into the ultimate experience of truth.”
– Rudolf Steiner (The Philosophy of Freedom)
At this point, I had intended on interlacing my understanding with select scriptures that I had, in times past, found perplexing and now view as awe inspiring. Realizing now, I would not be adding anything significant or publically useful and more than likely would detract from the truth of scripture by sharing my “insights”, I have resolved to refrain. Truth is its own best spokesman and speaks loudest when discovered individually! I will instead share specific scriptures that only truly opened up for me after I had achieved an experiential, that is to say “mystical” understanding of (soul, heart, spirit).
“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
– Genesis 2:7
“And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
– Matthew 22:37
“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
– John 4:24
“but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
– Isaiah 40:31
“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
– Isaiah 57:15
“’Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
– John 7:38
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”
– 2 Corinthians 3:17