INTRODUCTION TO SPIRITUALITY
Spirituality, above all, requires that you recognize that a person’s being is housed in temporary, finite physical form, but is itself infinite, without boundaries and the constraints of time. A person is not necessarily that which he has come to be accepted as “he” after he was born. That part or aspect is in the physical world, but not of the physical world. And that part just exists, even without its physical form-without boundaries, matter, space, or time.
Repeat the phrase “I am.” There may be more wisdom to this simple chant than is first apparent. You may think that it is not a complete sentence and the compulsion to do so followed by such as attributes or traits such as “poor,” “American,” “an engineer,” “a banker,” “unhappy, “a golfer,” or “a human being,” are only attempts to emphasize the temporary human side of you and ignore the spiritual one within. You may try to complete this sentence, but your soul or spirit is complete without these additional aspects.
In order to feel both separate and complete, say this sentence again. “I am” and connect with your pure-beingness.
Are you hungry?
Your immediate response may be something like, “No, I just had dinner” or “I could go for a little something.” In so doing, you just avoided a spiritual opportunity by thinking in physical, bodily terms. The soul is also hungry and it was born that way-a hunger for the Creator from which it came and which nothing on earth can fully satisfy.
Look up. What do you see? You will probably say something like, “The ceiling” if you are indoors. Now, try to see beyond it without physical eyes-with your soul. Way up there is God, your Creator. You descended shortly after you were conceived and assumed your current physical form-the one you have always taken to be “you.”
But you were “born” with something you have been unaware of or may have only been vaguely aware of-until now-that nagging, unsatisfied hunger for something. That hunger says “I need to satisfy it,” but you most likely wonder how. Thus, begins the search-for something more, for something to satisfy or complete it.
The lengths people go to do so, seeking wealth and the material things it can buy, such as houses, jewels, cars, boats, and furs. The more they have, the more they seem to want. There may be two reasons for this unfulfillment.
First, greed, one of the seven deadly sins, feeds itself, but instead of satisfying, it only creates greater hunger.
Secondly, because these material possessions fail to feed the soul, they do nothing to quell and quench. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, but lose his soul?” the Gospel of Mark states (8:36).
All of these material and physical manifestations may make for a comfortable lifestyle-for the body itself-but not necessarily for the soul, and all of these “pleasures” will do nothing to feed it. As a result, it remains “hungry.”
This hunger began with the separation of the soul from its Source and will never be fully satisfied and complete until it returns to it after earthly life. “Our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee” is another pertinent quote.
Understanding God and eternity requires several shifts in perspective.
God, as Creator, first and foremost, can be considered the first effective cause, and everything He created from His sheer word can be considered His effects. Cause, in this case, will always be higher and first in order than any of its effects.
All souls were created by God. Since He is spiritual and eternal, so, too, are they, despite their temporary, physical form pause.
Because they are eternal, which is a state devoid of all matter, energy, space, and time, as known and experienced in the finite, physical world, they harness time to separate events, yet all of them, despite utter illogic, occur simultaneously.
Any understanding of God requires a shift from the physical brain, with its inherent restrictions, to the soul, with its lack of them. Interpretation can therefore only be enhanced by relinquishing literal understanding in human form.
Finally, understanding requires the imagined separation of the soul from the physical body in which it is housed-that is, from a human being to a spiritual being.
“We must conclude,” according to Anton C. Pegis, ed, in his “Introduction to St. Thomas Aquinas” (Random House, 1948, p. 284, “that the human soul, which is called intellect or mind, is something incorporeal and subsistent.”
Above all, remember that “I am” is not only a complete sentence, but a complete existence-without physical form-for the soul.
THE BEGINNING AND GOD’S EXISTENCE
For many, God’s very existence is questioned.
Yet His existence can be demonstrated by the cause-and-effect model. To use a simpler example, suppose I placed a ball on a table and then asked what would happen to it if I hit it with my finger. Undoubtedly, the ball, whose speed will depend upon the force of the finger that initiated its movement from rest, will roll to the end of the surface and may even fall over the edge, bouncing a few times on the floor.
If I asked what the cause of this motion was, you would most likely answer that my finger flicking it was. If I then asked what the effect of that finger was, you would again most likely respond that it rolled to or even off of the table’s edge.
Everyone and everything was the effect of God, who can be considered the first efficient cause.
Suppose, for a moment, that you believed that you created yourself. Why, it can only be wondered, would you do so only once? My response would be that, even if you did succeed in creating yourself, then you would have had to do so twice-because you could not have created yourself unless you already existed. How could you have possibly created yourself from nothing, and if you already existed, why would you need to do so a second time?
All this implied that you created something from nothing, when you did not exist to begin with. Only God was able to do this with his word.
Because people, the effects, are better known and hence demonstrable, it may be easier to understand His existence, since they can be traced to the cause, God himself.
“If,” according to Pegis (ibid, p. 24), “the effect exists, the cause must pre-exist. Hence, the existence of God, in so far as it is not self-evident, can be demonstrated from those of His effects, which are known to us.”
Every person, every soul, every molecule in existence came from God-from His sheer word. This may be an incomprehensible possibility to man in his finite, limited, temporary, imperfect state. After all, just uttering a word and expecting something concrete to result from it is an impossibility and there is a very good reason for this: God possesses infinite power and man does not, and God did not endow man with this capability.
Yet His word was the catalyst to the universe. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” and “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” according to Genesis.
Pegis speaks of this original first-cause entity when he states,”… Some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end, and this being we call God (ibid, p. 27).
Before this creation, He was all that existed. Even the planets, the stars, space, and its vacuum did not. There was only God.
His word was the catalyst to the so-called “Big Bang” and it only took a single one, because of His perfection, to initiate the creation of matter that cooled, condensed, and spun around itself, forming the celestial planets, whose gravitational core ensured that that matter would remain cohesive and not extend beyond its boundaries. A single word, followed by a single act! How, it can only be wondered, could He have known all of this? The answer is simple: God did not necessarily have this knowledge. He is this knowledge. Everything you know He already knows. And He knew millennia before your physical existence when He would create your spiritual one and what purpose it would serve here on earth.
How could He possibly think in such terms? He is God, perfect, and infinite. We are not. He is not restricted to time. We are.
We take for granted the way the world is and how people externally appear to us. It is all we know. But what we do not consider is that He could have pieced it all together differently and He could have created different living forms. While we can never know why He created in the manner we intimately experience every day, it can only be suggested that He chose the most efficient one for the temporary experience that precedes eternal life. What is most important here, however, is that He is the first efficient cause and everything else are His effects.
THE SIMPLICITY OF GOD
Since birth, we have lived in a limited, compressed, imperfect, and finite form, with boundaries and restrictions. The same could be said of our minds. Yet these very restrictive tools are the only ones we have to understand-if not fathom-infinite, limitless, and eternal concepts. Thus, it requires continual emphasis to bypass the logical, earth-oriented thinking process and see beyond your physical properties to understand your spiritual nature.
In order to do so, you must transcend this physicality and see beyond to the infinite.
During a recent lecture, for instance, I told my students that their lives would be rich and they immediately wondered if they would be given an expected raise or would win the lottery. The response was entirely expected and I had to point out that “life” could signify the eternal one and “rich” may refer to their reward for having lived the earthly one. Part of that reward stems from the seamless connection with their Creator, bathed in His light and glory. But the tendency to relate my prophesy to their physical existences was automatic.
Despite the difficulty of separating this dual-world complication, God can be considered simple. How, it can only be wondered, can the infinite Creator of all be labeled “simple.”
An analogy is here needed. Think of a cake you wish to bake. In the bowl will go items such as flour, baking soda, milk, sugar, and eggs. Without the eggs, the cake would be less than the sum of its parts, because the batter would most likely not bind.
Yet God cannot be less than the sum of His parts, because He is not comprised of “parts.” He is just God-pure and total light, love, beingness, and essence.
Simplicity implies a lack of parts or the absence of any composition of elements. God, the initial, eternal being and the Source to whom everything can be traced, whether it be the souls or the physical manifestations that support their temporal life, is both an absolute from and an absolute being. In this respect, He is “simple.”
He is strength and not comprised of anything weak. He is light and not comprised of anything dark. Since He is not a composition or combination of form and matter, he is not comprised of any quantitative parts. His essence does not differ from His being.
As the first being, He is not the effect of himself as cause. Only man falls into this category.
THE GOODNESS OF GOD
This concept, as already demonstrated with the understanding of the others, depends upon the transcendence of human condition restrictions and distortions and using a finite brain to comprehend something that it is not.
Although the concept of goodness may have numerous meanings and measurements on the earthly plane, its definition in reference to God hinges upon beingness, connection to Him, and therefore similarity. Goodness and being are the same, but only differ in idea.
“… Every creature of God is good, and God is the greatest good,” according to Pegis (ibid, p. 38). “Therefore, everything is good.”
Since the world seems overabundant with “bad” and evil, it may be wondered from where they came and who or what created them. But the answer here is the relativity and likeness to God, who is only good, and the bad or evil that separation causes.
Again, an analogy is needed. If, for instance, there were only a single, original temperature, such as warmth, it could be said that cold is the absence and opposite of it. Similarly, bad is the absence or opposite of good, which is God, and results from separation from Him, through sin, channeled through the use of free will.
“No being is said to be evil… , but only so far as it lacks being,” advises Pegis.
Because God is good, seeking him indicates that desire to be like and ultimately return to the Source who created him.
“… Everything seeks after its own perfection, and the perfection and form of an effect (the person) consist in a certain likeness to the agent (God), since every agent makes its like,” according to Pegis (ibid, p. 46).
God only created those who are like Him, not unlike Him, and the degree of their seamless connection with Him increases that likeness through beingness. Beingness here is thus the equivalent of goodness.
INFINITY AND UNITY
Although it is difficult, if not impossible, to truly understand the concept of infinity in finite form, God is, nevertheless, boundless and eternal. Further complicating this concept, perhaps, but evident in every physical creation, is the fact that something infinite can become finite in form. That that form is additionally temporary, only proves that something finite is ultimately infinite, as it returns to its original state.
“Matter is made finite by form inasmuch as matter, before it receives its form, is in potentiality to many forms; but, on receiving its form, it is terminated by that one,” Pegis explains (ibid, p. 54).
Clay, to use yet another analogy, can be molded into an innumerable number of forms, from pottery to tools, but becomes finite in the form it eventually assumes. If the item is then rolled out in a ball and placed onto the amorphous lump from which it came, it returns to its state of infinite potential.
Despite the obstacle of understanding the unseen-that is, God and the souls He created-and the seen, such as physical matter, and conceptualizing how they can originate from the same Source, there is unity in all, because of the Source or origin they share. Limited human logic and reasoning render it difficult to understand this reality and God’s ability to create by his sheer word was not given, as a capability, to man.
THE VISIBILITY OF GOD
There is certainly an inherent restriction to the words “visible” and “see” in relation to God. Take a look around you. What do you see? If you are indoors, your answer may be “My couch,” “My desk,” or “My kitchen.” If you are outdoors, it may be “the traffic” or “the trees.” I am sure that you would be accurate, because you are using your physical eyes to see physical forms or properties. God, however, is not contained in such physicality, so you certainly cannot use this medium to “see” Him.
Because sight is the most prevalently used of the five senses, and those who firmly believe in a Higher Power or have at least embarked upon a path to understand Him strive to employ it, it is both natural and logical that they seek, if not need, to see Him. This, in essence, causes one to wonder: can the created see the Creator?
While the answer may be an unsatisfactory yes or no, there are aspects which point to one or the other. This act and intention firstly depend upon intellectual comprehension and secondly beatitude, which can be considered a rise of the soul toward its Source.
Offering what may be more confusion than explanation, St. Thomas Aquinas states, “What is supremely knowable in itself, may not be knowable to a particular intellect, because of the excise of the intelligible object above its intellect.”
The sun, as an example, may be extremely visible, but its true magnitude cannot be absorbed or understood because of the finite capability of the eyes. So beyond their ability is it, that they may actually be blinded by the excess of light.
Although man’s souls were created by God and thus bear His image, they hardly contain his magnitude and glory, especially in limited, finite, sin-separated form, leaving it impossible to fathom His true nature.
Two aspects are required for sensible and intellectual vision.
1). The power of sight, which is the physical channel to the intellect.
2). The union of that seen by means of the sight.
The likeness of God, however, cannot be seen by a corporeal creation, since God himself is neither in corporeal (bodily) form nor finite. The soul, or the shared essence between Creator and created, serves as the only commonality.
“… To see the essence of God, there is required some likeness in the visual power-namely, the light of glory strengthening the intellect to see God,” Pegis explains (ibid, p. 74).
Because the divine essence is beingness itself, only the soul can aid the intellect in seeing and understanding its Creator.
“God cannot be seen in His essence by one who is merely man, except he be separated from this mortal life… ,” St. Thomas Aquinas advises (Pegis, ibid, pp 91-92). “Our soul, as long as we live in this life, has its being in corporeal matter. Hence, it knows naturally only what has a form in matter, or by what can be known by such a form. It is evident that the divine essence cannot be known through the nature of material things.”
“Seeing” God thus depends upon four aspects.
1) Determining the commonality or shared essence with Him-that is, your soul.
2). Realizing that you can never see Him through physical means, or the eyes, because He is not in physical form Himself.
3). Understanding that sins separate, making it that much more difficult to “see” Him.
4). Realizing that, with all your efforts, that you can never fully fathom His glory and magnitude in your present finite state.
It can only be wondered if one person can see God more perfectly than another, and the answer lies in the definition of the verb “see,” which, in this case, has nothing to do with ocular vision. Instead, it has everything to do with the soul.
The darker and more disconnected it is from its Creator, the weaker will be its reflection. Conversely, the more it is seamlessly connected to the Divine Source, the more it will be able to reflect that Source’s glory.
LOCATION AND TIME
Existence on the physical plane implies four integra elements, which can be remembered by the acronym “MEST” that stands for “matter,” “energy,” “space,” and “time.” A person is temporarily housed in a body and negotiates a physical world comprised of “matter.” That world is propelled by “energy.” His body and everything in it occupy a certain amount of “space.” And “time” separates events so that they do not all occur simultaneously. As impossible as it is to understand otherwise, they actually do to the soul, but time is like the manila folders that separate files in a cabinet to foster a degree of order and organization.
On your first day of kindergarten, for example, your soul-but not necessarily your conscious brain-already knows what your first day at your adult job will be like and the people you will meet, despite the fact that they may still be five years old at the current time.
Time serves to sequentially separate events. God, the first cause, is above time, viewing all things simultaneously, since He created all of them and they are therefore already within Him, despite the fact that certain events have not yet happened to man on the physical plane.
“Things reduced to actuality in time are known by us successively in time,” according to Pegis (ibid, p. 154), “but by God they are known in eternity, which is above time… Just as he who goes along the road does not see those who came after him, whereas he who sees the whole road from a height sees all at once those traveling on it.”
Temporally experiencing finite parameters, man may naturally wish to know God’s location-that is, where is He? Because He is infinite, many believe that He is everywhere. But “everywhere” only defines the location of His effects or creations.
“… We know God more fully according as many and more of His excellent effects are demonstrated to us, and according as we attribute in Him some things known by divine revelation, to which natural reason cannot reach… ,” St. Thomas Aquinas explains (Pegis, ibid, pp 95-96).
God is One and this can be concluded from three aspects.
1). His simplicity.
2). The infinity of His perfection.
3). The world’s unity.
Toward this last aspect, St. Thomas Aquinas offers two thoughts.
1). “For all things that exist are seen to be ordered to each other, since some serve others,” (Pegis, ibid, p. 67).
2). “Since… what is first is most perfect, and is so per se and not accidentally, it must be that the first which reduces all into one order should be only one. And this is God,” (Pegis, ibid, p. 67).