A Lesson About Words and Spirit from My Favorite Nun (Which may, or may not, be the one she was trying to teach . . .)
(I am not a holy roller, nor am I religious. I spend my days feeding and cleaning up after more than 100 animals on our farm animal rescue in Connecticut, while wishing I had more time to write books and play with grandchildren. I do spiritual readings and healings to help fund the rescue, despite having vowed to keep my “gifts” to myself and quietly hide out on the farm. Other than the ability to communicate with animals and spirits, you would never guess I was unusual at all. Spending so much of my day in silence amongst my furry and feathered friends means I tend to hear voices and get inspirations. Today’s inspiration comes to you courtesy of Sister Linda, an English professor at Annhurst College in the late 1970s.)
1978, freshman year of college, English 101. Sister Linda assigned an essay on the topic “the power of words; do demeaning titles or words have an effect on who you are and how people see you?” You would think someone who’d been bullied throughout grammar school would argue the affirmative, but no – for whatever reason, I parked my Frye boots in my dorm room next to my beanbag chair, sat myself before my blue Underwood manual typewriter, and after fidgeting with my mood ring for a few moments (was I happy? Sad? Angry? Who would ever know without first consulting their ring?) I argued that names and titles didn’t mean a hoot . . . you are who you are. Sister Linda didn’t agree, but since the paper was well written, she gave me the A and let it go with a handwritten paragraph (remember when people wrote in script?) explaining why I was wrong.
Fast-forward 30 years. After a career of working with words, as a playwright, journalist, columnist, etc., I finally understand the power that dwells within each word and how usage, placement and connotation affect them, and us. In 1978, I should have argued that a benign pair of words such as “bird’s nest” could be used as a weapon, as it was the name I was called, in a most derogatory way, throughout my youth in reference to my unruly, tightly curled mop of yellow hair. These words were often accompanied by hissing and spitting and I learned to hate them; the “spirit” of the true meaning of the words had been contaminated.
In my new spirit of recognizing the power of words (thank you, Sister Linda) I often refer to God as “Spirit.” For a woman who was raised Catholic and spent many a Monday night praying the rosary at Novena, it seems like a bit of a funky New Age stretch, but if you follow my logic, I think you’ll understand.
God has many names, and depending on what religion we follow we also assign various characteristics to our divine deity. For example, the always-colorful members of the Westboro Baptist Church insist that “God Hates Fags.” Many (OK, most) of us believe they’re wrong, but what the hell . . . you can’t argue with crazy. The name “God” can often conjure up a robed father figure that is misogynistic and a bit of a control freak. Now take the name Allah and pin it on a deity, any deity, and what do you get? Since the Twin Towers went down on 911, many Americans associate Allah with the idea of revenge and violence, not exactly the peaceful, loving God most of us like to snuggle up with on a Sunday morning.
For me, the name “God” conjures up a distant entity that is more concerned with rules, structure and control than compassion and love. This God, who could “hate fags” and stone an adulteress, lives far, far away in a place called Heaven, which he may or may not deem you worthy of entering. This is the God used by religions to control and manipulate people, the God who from his mighty throne-on-high orders us to drink the Kool-Aid (has the Kool-Aid brand ever recovered from the Rev. Jim Jones?) This is a distant God, who would send us to a fiery hell forever for missing Mass on a Sunday, and fellow Catholics, you all know what I’m talking about as that’s the threat our mothers used to get us up and going to church on Sunday mornings . . .
I used to believe religion was necessary to control people, as we often seem incapable of actually being “human” (as opposed to barbaric) without some kind of structure. In the past few years, however, I’ve realized that God/Spirit, with infinite wisdom, has given us all the tools we need to understand how to behave, and if we allow ourselves to be connected to the Spirit that runs through each and every living being on this planet, we are rewarded with great spiritual riches. For me, this connection to Spirit allows me to communicate with other spirits, including those living in animal bodies or on the other side (or both, for that matter.) This also allows me to work with some really amazing healers on the other side, as Spirit runs through them and then through me. There is no distance, because, like the hymn we sang most Sunday mornings in my childhood, we truly are, “one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord” whether we want to be or not.
Yes, there are plenty of people who may be filled with the Spirit (we have to be, otherwise we are dead . . . although I suppose this could an argument for the existence of Zombies . . . ) and yet these people are not connected to Spirit in any way. We refer to them as people without a conscience, which is Spirit’s voice in our head telling us right from wrong. We all know a few of this sort, and for them God may as well be a gazillion light years away in His Heaven, callously glancing down several times each day, mulling over whether or not He will let our favorite sports team win the championship. Not exactly an accessible sort, to say the least.
When Jesus said, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me,” it wasn’t hypothetical – he meant it. He understood that God is actually the Spirit of Life that connects all living creatures and literally, because we are all interconnected, when we hurt another living being, we hurt each other AND we hurt Spirit. The flip side of that is when we offer kindness and generosity of Spirit to another we are also offering it to everyone connected in the web of Spirit. Everyone. It’s a really great flip side that we don’t think about often enough when you consider the power for great good we are all capable of doing. And by the way, the other profound line in that hymn I refer to above is, “and we pray that our unity may one day be restored” (OK, I know Catholics are actually referring to those splitters, the Protestants, but bear with me . . . ) The point is, we ARE all united in Spirit, and there’s not a damned thing we can do to change that, and the sooner we recognize it, the sooner we start taking care of ourselves and the other residents of our planet, and even our planet for that matter.
In my renovated corn house, where I do my readings and much of my writing, I keep a tiny hummingbird nest on the windowsill. It is tightly woven of hairs from our horses’ manes and tails, and it is exquisitely beautiful. It reminds me of the power of words and names, and how at one time the words “bird’s nest” nearly drove me to suicide during a desperately unhappy childhood. Carefully chosen words are powerful for both good and evil. So when I refer to Spirit, don’t think for one moment that I don’t believe in “God.” The reality is that I do, very deeply, and because of that, along with Sister Linda’s sage counsel, I choose to call that entity what it is . . . the Spirit of Life, which is never separate or distant, but always flowing through us . . . because of, and in spite of, ourselves.