Spirituality: What Does That Mean?

I recently read a comment on another blog wherein the commentator maintained that Quakers are overly-spiritual, to put it nicely. This has gotten me wondering, not for the first time, just what do people mean by the related terms spirituality, spiritual, or spirit. I suspect that when some people use the term the more vague, the less defined the concept talked about, the more “spiritual” it is. For some, to talk about “the Spirit” is a means of avoiding talking about God or Jesus Christ. For some other people there is a sharp division, by trinitarian doctrine, between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.

Several years ago, I resolved to discover just what the writers of Scripture had in mind when they used the word “spirit.” I did not think any of the above meanings fit what I was reading. As you no doubt know, the words “spirit” and “breath” are interchangeable. In Genesis, God breathed into man the breath or spirit of life and man became a living being. So when reading Scripture, I often substitute “breath” when the various translations render the text as “spirit” because “breath” carries with it the connotation of that act of creation wherein we become living beings before God today. Thus my definition of spirit has to do with that resource that provides life, that which gives substance to an otherwise empty existence. This is exemplified by John 6:63 where Jesus tells the disciples, “The flesh profits nothing, it is the spirit [breath] that gives life. The words I have spoken/am speaking, these are spirit [breath] and these are life.” (Notice the verb “have spoken/am speaking.” The Greek tense used here implies an action done in the past that continues on into the present.) This is not the only place that God’s speaking to us is connected with the term “spirit” or the concept of being made alive. Look at Proverbs 1:23

Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.

See Deuteronomy 8:3 where Moses tells the Israelites that God humbled them, let them be hungry, and fed them with manna so that they might come to know that

man does not live by bread alone. But by every word proceeding out of the mouth of God shall man live.

And then there is the prologue to the book of John.

In the beginning was the Word…in him was life and the life was the light of men…to as many as received him, to them he gave the power to become children of God [i.e. living beings]. (See John 1:1-13)

It is the Word that gives life, that is the source of life; it is the Word that is spirit. And it is this Word, this spirit, this breath that is poured out upon all flesh causing old men to dream dreams and young to have visions; causing servants and handmaids to prophesy. This breath that was breathed into man in the beginning comes to us as the Word made flesh dwelling among us. This Word is the intelligible Word of Life that raises up out of the grave all who will hear. (See Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, Ezekiel 37, and John 5:24-25 which refers back to Ezekiel 37)

So now apply this understanding to the oft quoted text:

The hour is coming and now is when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship Him. God is a spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.(John 4:23-24)

Are we receiving the pouring forth of the Word made flesh as the foundation of our worship of God? Have we been raised up out of our grave by hearing the voice of the Son, the Word of God? Are we given dreams, visions, and prophesies because we know the Word to be poured upon our flesh? This is worship in spirit and is beyond the capacity of human beings separated from our Creator. Any attempt to gain proficiency in this practice by use of technique or other artifice is doomed to failure. If you would worship the Father in spirit and in truth, you must come to the relationship of hearing and obeying Jesus, the Word who was in the beginning, who is one with the Father.

Let us also look at another portion of scripture. Jesus said,

Where two or three are gathered together in my [authority], there am I in the midst of them. (John 18:20)

Jesus is there for particular purposes. He comes to us as our prophet to bring us the words of life and empower us to live by those words. He is among us as our living counselor that we may take counsel with God in all things. He is present as our shepherd to feed us in the pastures of life and lead us by the springs of living water. He comes among us a priest to cleanse us and present us spotless to the Father. When we know/experience Jesus fulfilling these offices in and among us, then our worship is in spirit and truth, then we have reason to worship the Father.

In his epistle #32, George Fox stated:

When your minds go forth from the pure spirit of God, and are drawn out from it, there the image of God comes to be lost, in those whose minds go out from the pure, to lust after that which is in the fall, which may appear like truth in the notion; in that nature, out of the truth, lodgeth the enchanter and sorcerer.

This is a powerful statement and warning to all. “When your minds go forth from that pure, creational breath/spirit/Word of God…” So, going forth, we pass from the image of God, the life that is the light of man, to lust after that which is in the fall. What is it that is in the fall? “You shall be as God!” If we listen to this line, we come to possess a notion of truth. But we don’t have the substance of truth. We have entered the domain of the enchanter and sorcerer who fabricate illusions of life. But the image of God, the life that makes one a child of God, is missing.

When Jesus said,

I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me. (John 14:6)

He is not making a statement of exclusivity. He is offering life and reconciliation with the Father to all who will turn from their own efforts to provide salvation. Our efforts to save ourselves are yet another manifestation of “You shall be as God.” And no one, proclaiming themselves to be God, will ever come to the Father for that is not the way. Because Jesus is the Word who was in the beginning, in whom is the life that is the light of man, He is the way out of the fall to return to the Father. George Fox put it this way:

All who stumble at the light are without, and are not come to repentance, and so all who stumble at the light, stumble at the door, the door is known by the light which comes from Christ: and all who stumble at the light, stumble at the way; for Christ hath enlightened every one, that, with the light he might see the way (which is Christ) to the father. So all who stumble at the light, stumble at the scriptures, and know not the meaning of them…and all who stumble at the light, never knew hope which purifies, nor faith which purifies, nor the belief which overcomes the world…so all who stumble at the light, they are to be condemned with the light from the life of the prophets and apostles (which dwelt in the light) with the rude wicked world. And here every one shall witness his condemnation just, and see it just, with the light which shews him his evil deeds, and that Christ’s words are true, and to own his condemnation that hateth it; and they are the children of the light that love it, and believe in it, and with the light they see their deeds are wrought in God, to the praise of God, and joy, and comfort of themselves. (Works, Vol. IV, pp.25-26) [To read this in context of Fox’s complete essay, see his To All That Would Know the Way to the Kingdom.]

If you would truly be spiritual you must live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Word made flesh who dwells among us (see John 1:14-18). You can’t be overly spiritual. You can’t overdose on dwelling in the pure spirit of God or of walking in the light of Christ that you may see the door and see the way to the Father and be made alive. Again quoting from Fox’s epistle #32:

So, dwell in the light, and wait upon God to have the image of God renewed; and all come to witness yourselves to be restored by Christ Jesus into the image of God, and to be made by him like to God, pure, holy, perfect, and righteous. This was witnessed, this is witnessed, and this will be witnessed measurably with thousands, who are growing up out of the fall, and coming up out of the grave. Let not the lust go out to any thing which is mortal, to be servant thereto; but mind the joining to the life. Here ye are kept in the image of God. Not but that ye may use the creatures lawfully, but being kept in the image of God, ye are kept as kings over all the creatures, and over the creation; here ye will see all things, and by whom they stand. (Works, Vol. VII, p. 38)

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About Ellis Hein

I am a woodturner and the author of The Woodturner's Project Book. I have a life-long interest in the gospel preached by George Fox and the early Quakers. You can see some of my material on that subject at http://nffquaker.org/profiles/blog/list?user=1zw2th7nj9p89.
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4 Responses to Spirituality: What Does That Mean?

  1. joyshimmers says:

    AMAZING!! ✨🙏

    Like

  2. Life in Christ is distinct from any attempt at piety or virtue; it’s pre-eminently felt inwardly as power that is beyond any human sentiment or feeling. I just did a search of the KJV for the phrase “life and power,” and found no reference. Yet this phrase was used by Fox and Penington (and perhaps other Friends) frequently. These two qualities – life and power – describe so well the experience of feeling Christ’s presence, it’s surprising to me that it isn’t biblical. Perhaps the miracle events in Scriptures which exhibit transcendent power are the equivalent of the verbal description from Friends. Both emphasize the power of God, the gospel power.

    For humans in our natural, unredeemed state, power is a great idol, but that power is of and for the self, and no matter how close to absolute it comes, it never seems to be enough. Whereas, the gospel power is abundantly complete, and one wants for nothing more.

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    • Ellis Hein says:

      Thank you for these thoughts. I am struck by your comparison between “human power,” which will consume us like a cancer, and the gospel power which completes and satiates us. It is like Jesus’ statement, “Blessed are ye that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for ye shall be filled.”

      Like

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