a collaborative genealogy of spirituality


by Dean Moyar

Davis: Hey, what are you doing here?

Vern: What does it look like?

Davis: Well, like nothing actually.

Vern: I can look at the lake and our Chicago skyline while I walk. Isn’t that enough?

Davis: I’m glad I ran into you. My four-year old heard someone mention the spiritual and asked me what it was, I mean what it is.

Vern: Tell him it’s the wind through the trees.

Davis: I don’t think he’s going to buy that.

Vern: You’re a lawyer, you should be able to come up with something persuasive.

Davis: You would think so, but he just doesn’t let it go with my vague declarations. It’s like he can smell uncertainty.

Vern: What did you try?

Davis: Something about the trinity…

Vern: And you didn’t get very far?

Davis: Then I tried something about a state of mind…

Vern: I’m not sure that this was just a communication problem.

Davis: I know, that’s why I’m glad I ran into you.

Vern: I’m no guru.

Davis: Still, you get paid to think.

Vern: Let’s start there, then.

Davis: Where?

Vern: Getting paid. No, with thinking. And let’s walk. [pause] What do you think spirit, or spirituality, is?

Davis: Some kind of awareness of the ineffable, I suppose. Spirit can’t be known, spirituality is our awareness of something that can’t be known.

Vern: That’s a funny thing to say. It sounds like an inability, something mute.

Davis: I mean, if you could communicate it, it wouldn’t be what it is. There wouldn’t be any point to the word spirit if it were some object like any other.

Vern: But if we’re talking about it, we aim to understand. There are limits to what we can understand, but we can talk about these limits, and experiment with them. So you think spirituality is a kind of consciousness, something in you?

Davis: It’s like we’re the access point, but there should be something outside us that stands against us but speaks to us.

Vern: I mean, you can always point beyond yourself. There’s the horizon, right there, beyond which I cannot see. You say, I’m not the one, there’s something bigger than me, bigger than any one of us. But you’re just negating something, most likely yourself. You’re judging, doing something, not receiving.

Davis: But the spiritual is different. We already know Michigan is out there. But we don’t know what’s beyond us, the material.

Vern: Okay, that’s our opposite then. We might define the spiritual against the material. That’s one of the main lines in history. Turn against the material, fasting and abstaining, mortifying the flesh and all that. There’s the worry though that you’re actually obsessed with the material in trying to escape from it. But I don’t suppose you have much sympathy with the anti-body, self-flagellation idea, do you?

Davis: I wouldn’t teach it to my kids, anyway.

Vern: How about the Great Father idea, then, if you’re so worried about the little ones?

Davis: They already have a father. And a mother. Let’s not go there.

Vern: So you want the wonder, the mystery, the awe, and you also want to say something memorable, without too much double-talk. Let’s take a step back. How do you say anything about anything?

Davis: Uh-oh.

Vern: You asked for it. And I mean it.

Davis: I was looking for something that could appear on Elmo, not a seminar on semantics.

Vern: That’s a cop-out. Go back to what you said about materiality. You said it because you need some kind of limit or wall. Your kids know this—if it’s not a square, not a circle, it’s a triangle. Everything is a contrast, or a negation. That’s how you mean anything.

Davis: What?! I see things that are ugly, like the Borg Warner building on South Michigan. I don’t need anything else to see it, or to say what I mean.

Vern: That’s a comparative judgment. Of course you’re contrasting it at some level. I can always ask why you made this or that judgment, and the content of your answer negates some other possible contents.

Davis: Even if it is a judgment, I don’t have to deliberate. It’s more like a conviction, an intuition.

Vern: You can’t appeal to brute feeling. That’s just to refuse the question. To me that refusal would be the denial of the spiritual.

Davis: So spirituality is just a willingness to answer why? Or do you have to do it well?

Vern: I’m not talking about something subjective.

Davis: A refusal is something done by a subject.

Vern: It’s not just you who reasons, though. There’s reason all around you.

Davis: Reason? We were talking about spirituality. When did you change the subject?

Vern: I didn’t. That’s what I’ve been getting at. They’re the same.

Davis: Reason and spirit? Rationality and spirituality? Another pair of opposites, if you ask me, or anybody else.

Vern: Why? Since you don’t know what spirit is, it must be reason that’s confusing you. It’s nothing mysterious.

Davis: I know, that’s exactly what I’m worried about. It’s cold, exact, hygienic.

Vern: That sounds like formal logic, not reason. It’s not mathematical, or even like your LSAT games.

Davis: What is it then?

Vern: No, how not what. When you say something follows from something else, you’re reasoning.

Davis: Who says “follows from”? Even lawyers don’t talk like that.

Vern: You don’t literally have to say those two words to do what they say.

Davis: But where’s the power, the force?

Vern: It’s in us. Where else would it be?

Davis: Sometimes, Vern, you want to interrupt aggression with reason, logic.

Vern: That’s interesting. In my business, we’re often accused of masking power plays with reason, assuming reason is something other than power when it is just used to hide the real interests behind it. So I’m surprised, though I guess I shouldn’t be, that you want more power than I’m giving you with the word.

Davis: At least give me something I understand—a binding law.

Vern: God-given, you mean?

Davis: That would be a good start. But you don’t have to put it like that. Something like addition, or mathematical proof, that people can’t deny without being called insane.

Vern: That works in math class, but it’s not much good off campus. And anyway, spirit can’t be clean-cut, or the kind of force that’s one-way. If everything worked by mathematical equations, the meaning might go missing.

Davis: All right, go back to Church, then. Whatever definition we give would have to at least cover those worshippers.

Vern: Some of them, anyway.

Davis: Well, what do they have to do with reason?

Vern: Don’t think of them as just bowing to an idol.

Davis: Who says I was?

Vern: Well, the preacher in the pulpit is giving reasons, revealing reason. The stories you hear in Sunday school tell of reasons.

Davis: It’s more about ethics… and love is not reason or some sort of negation.

Vern: There wouldn’t be jealousy if love wasn’t a negation.

Davis: But I’m pretty sure jealousy is a sin. Think Jesus, love of your neighbor.

Vern: No one has ever loved everyone. Our ethics have to be more personal, even if we do believe in the incarnation.

Davis: I suppose you’re going to tell me that self-sacrifice is just another opposition? That even if we think we are going against reason, it’s still got us cornered.

Vern: Here I stand. I can do no other, nothing else. I negate every other option. That’s an ethics of reason.

Davis: And God?

Vern: The last reason.

Davis: That’s it?

Vern: No. That’s it. What more do you want?

Davis: I don’t know. Should it matter what I want?