Repetition is not my favorite activity. But, like all of humanity I have my habits. They revolve around the physical—eating, bathing, sleeping and the like. When it comes to the mind and its variable emotions and reason, repetition is something I mostly avoid.
I read that many have watched The Godfather dozens of times. I have watched it once. Variations on The Godfather’s themes saturate movies and television. None are as well done, but I digress. My tendency with much of what is dramatized is to pause, enjoy and then move on.
Yet, I have always had an unquenchable interest in God—yes, the upper-case one. My interest in God is in part due to my knowledge of gods and the inescapable struggles we all have. The gods of temptations are especially challenging and too often degrading. Our underlying weaknesses need an upper-case god; of that, I am sure.
An especially interesting feature of God or the possibility of God is mystery. Good mystery writers have trouble avoiding formula and after a couple of books by the same author the protagonist becomes predictable. But, for me, I do find authors who engage and probe the mystery of life an unyielding attraction.
Curiosity about God and necessary mysteries are limitless subjects. And, infinitely important. Take The Trinity, for example. It is a central tenet of the Christian faith. At its most basic it is a belief in derivatives—that is there is a God and He chose to communicate with us through a sentient being, Jesus Christ, and a perpetual presence, the spirit or what credal readings call the “Holy Spirit”.
At the risk of becoming too personal and to some, opaque, I know there is a spiritual influence in my life. As my mind spins, the rotation and direction draw energy from forces easily and not so easily understood. Somewhere, deeply embedded in the operating system (OS) of my mind is a voice that influences and certainly transcends the OS.
The room in which I write surrounds me with pictures and various artifacts from a long life. As I look out the window, for me a necessary diversion, I can identify most of the plants and birds. What I struggle to pin down is what believers, indeed most of us, think of as the spiritual dimension. And I am not thinking about the occult.
My sense of order tells me I should now consult a dictionary and give you a well-ordered definition of spirit. I have chosen not to do that; I know that a dictionary definition will strive to cage the uncageable.
So let me turn to a vivid experience in my own life. Every person comes to the same end—death. It is often preceded by weeks or months of anticipation. Impending death occupies the deepest interiors of our mind and is unrelenting. My bout with cancer was instructive.
Society seeks to find institutional responses. Hospice, for example. And increasingly laws are being re-shaped to allow euthanasia—presumably a shortening of agony.
My Dad opted for neither—he chose what I think of as the spiritual option. Dad was not an overtly religious person; his interior life was quiet and in his final chapter I learned of its depth. I recall vividly a scene in a small room just off Mom and Dad’s bedroom. His friend and pastor and me talking about what comes next and then Dad’s surprising request that we hold hands and pray.
Final chapters are deeply personal. And, of course, a spiritual presence is not a pharmaceutical. Yet, we cannot help but celebrate the spirit as we talk about the spirit of Thanksgiving and Christmas.
So, there you have it. I could riff on expressions of faith and maybe I will at another time. But beyond the urgings of biblical history and its many interpreters (theologians) for me engagement with the spiritual is the enduring and essential mystery. It is there, but what is it? What is its source? What does it urge? How should I respond?
We humans have a need to sort things out. But, how do we categorize what we can’t see or reach out and grab? Or, using analytical methods, conclude? The next time you are in a bookstore (physical or virtual) search out those who help us puzzle through the mystery of the transcendent—the spiritual dimension. It is enduringly interesting and infinitely important.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.