Word of the week

Word of the week: spiritual

In the first decade of this century I met many people who would say, of themselves, “I’m a very spiritual person”. They would emphasize the word “spiritual”. Often I would ask such people if they practised any specific religion but the answer was always no. They didn’t need to. They were very spiritual, you know. I wasn’t entirely sure what they meant. “Spiritual” strikes me as one of those descriptions, like “charming” or “smart” or “a really good parent”, that you can say about others, but it’s devalued if you say it about yourself.

There’s only one person I have met, here in the real world, who I would describe as spiritual. He has been referred to elsewhere on this Blog as a “mild-mannered drummer”, a travelling companion on a trip to New York City 20 years ago. I have discussed him with many people, and introduced him to many friends over the years, with an oblique reference to a chart hit from the 1970s. “When you meet him,” I suggest, “You might be reminded of a song by Tavares”. No, it’s not “More than a woman”, “Whodunit” or “Don’t take away the music”. It’s their other UK Top 10, “Heaven must be missing an angel”. In the middle years of the last decade he trained as a “multi-faith minister”. I was at his ordination, which was rather different from the other ordinations I have attended, for Catholic priests, bishops and (in the early 1980s) an archbishop. He came to my daughter’s baptism, the same year that he was ordained as a multi-faith minister. The ceremony was conducted by a visiting priest from Poland, whose grandmother (on his father’s side) was Jewish. He was multi-faith in a different way.

My daughter is now 12 and the word “spiritual” has come up in conversation more than once over the last few months, most recently regarding George Harrison. Understandably she doesn’t know as much about the Beatles, collectively or individually, as I did at her age, but we have talked about them, and played their music, often in her young life. She knows that George and John are the two who died. In discussing the former I suggested that he would probably not have seen death as the end, just a change of state, a different place for his spirit to be, or something like that. These are not concepts that I delve into too much, but it would be safe to describe George as “a spiritual person”.

There’s a family member on my wife’s side whose lifestyle has been rather alternative over the last decade. His approach to life and the way he describes things made a strong impression on my daughter when she met him late last year. Maybe he too is “a spiritual person”. I didn’t spend long enough with him to form an opinion. When my daughter told me some of the things that he had said I asked if he’d be likely to say something like this: “We’re not humans on a spiritual journey; we’re spirits on a human journey.” I heard a DJ say it on the radio one Sunday afternoon. “Yes,” my daughter said, “That’s the kind of thing he’d say.” I’ll offer it to you again, with no further comment. You can react to it however you like. “We’re not humans on a spiritual journey; we’re spirits on a human journey.”




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