Recovering Sacred Spirits

By on Mar 11, 2017 in Pathways, Posts | 2 comments

As a child I knew what children often know; the world is alive, not just people, animals and plants but that everything vibrates with the aliveness of Spirit. The entire Cosmos is alive, everything, everywhere is animated with Spirit. Fortunately, I kept this knowing hidden from adults who would only try to explain it away with their boring rationalizations. To them the forest was no longer enchanted. But some of us knew better. We were lucky to have Souls that were strong enough to be our real teachers.

I remember a time in the 6th grade when our teacher was talking about Africa and our geography text made mention of the “primitive belief in spirits” and that “spirits inhabited places like mountains.” The teacher derided such primitive thoughts and made it clear that as modern people we did not believe in such silliness. She did not say as modern American white Christians but that is what she meant. I remember silently thinking ‘You, are wrong.” She pontificated for quite some time about these nonsensical ideas and the heathens who believed in such things. “A mountain is just a mountain and river is just a river although both may be beautiful,” she insisted.

It was clear to me that these primitive people had a lot going for them and survived quite well in a place among animals who would have enjoyed having the teacher for lunch. I said nothing. In those times schools were as dedicated to squelching the spirit of individual students as they were to suppressing “primitive ideas.” Any form of disagreement or personal thought was unwelcome. In my mind, I silently held much more interest in gorillas, rhinoceros and elephants than in most of the civilized ideas schools poured down our throats. They were certainly more interesting then penmanship, grammar or spelling.

I believed little of what she said.

There was an area of forest, swamp and meadow near my home. Now it is a large middle school, grammar school and huge series of athletic fields. I loved that swamp. The spirits were everywhere. It was to this pace I retreated from the world so that I could just experience and know what I knew. I carefully guarded this part of me. No self-respecting 11 year old boy who also loved playing baseball would ever admit to such a thing. There was also a Maple tree that grew on my street. It kept its leaves until after Thanksgiving every year. Every other tree would be barren except for this one masterpiece. It would be full of color. I knew it was a magical tree. It had spirits of its own. One of the older people in the neighborhood said it kept its leaves because it was planted on top of an old well. I thought that could help but did not change the fact of that the tree had magical properties.

The best part of school then was walking to and especially from school. We walked down the very busy Park Ave and then through a wooded area known as Bancroft Tower. I sensed the Spirits there as dark and foreboding. There was gloom and anger in the land. It was spooky. I never stayed long and never went there at night. I wondered what happened in ancient times to make the land so very sad.

Education was really a sort of socialization meant to wring all of this out of us. The value was on science and rationality. The high priests of the cult of science were saving the world from primitive superstition, irrationality and magical thinking of primitive tribes and young children. And for the most part many of us have bought the theology of science that the world is merely a conglomeration of things randomly gathered and governed by impersonal laws. The world was desacralized. Anne Dillard speaks of this in her memoir “Teaching a Stone to talk.”

It is difficult to undo our own damage, and recall the presence of
that which we asked to leave. It is hard to desecrate a grove and
then change your mind. The very holy mountains are mum. We
doused the burning bush and cannot rekindle it; we are lighting
matches in vain under every green tree.

It is as though because we have discovered chemicals, neuro-transmitters, DNA and genetic codes that the spirits have been banished. But, serotonin is as much God’s creation as Jerusalem. Evolution is the path of God as much as the steps into the Sistine Chapel. Walking on our green earth is as much a divine miracle as walking on water. The “Big Bang Theory” in physics is really a commentary on the first chapter of Genesis. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void. And darkness fell upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God was moving across the waters.” (Genesis 1:1&2) Then BANG. I don’t have any idea what made the primordial formless void blow but whatever it was is God to me. Each atom blown out from that primal ooze was infused with Spirit.

The view of a child must of necessity develop as his or her cognition blossoms into maturity so that everything that is being experienced can be integrated. Life then can be seen in the fullness of its sacredness. We touch sacred essence everywhere. The world is a sacred text. Living is a process of reading it from the opening cover (birth) to closing cover (death). As we see this we make room for the burning bush and the re-enchantment of the Cosmos.


  1. My favorite part of this piece is the second-to-last paragraph: serotonin, evolution, and the big bang are as much of God as Jerusalem and the Sistene Chapel. It brought to mind the idea that it was monk who originated the theory of The Big Bang. (
    I have recently been contemplating the question of just how far the sacred goes. Lots of people hold on to the idea that everything is sacred. I think I reject that idea. I think we tend to want to deny the sacredness of some “things” which deserve the label. But I think that our vocation, as human beings, is to try and make all things sacred. (Christians like me think about God’s kingdom, and “on Earth as it is in Heaven.”) This suggests, I think, that some things as they currently are, are not sacred. Perhaps the whole duality that humans are made in God’s image, but have ended up falling short of this divine potential applies to everything, and so recovering the divine image in all things, returning all to its sacred roots, is a useful analogy.


    March 16, 2017

    • In the interest of full disclosure I want to point out that Jeff is one of my adult sons. It seems to be in our family genetics, vocation, karma to discuss such theological and spiritual themes.
      The Wikipedia article is interesting. The Roman Catholic Church is often more remembered for its inquisition than its more contemporary progressive stance with science.
      My sense is that we recognize the sacred in all things not that we make them sacred. We recognize what already is. This raises a wonderful question about the nature of creation and our role in it.


      Graham Campbell

      March 18, 2017

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