Anemia of the Spirit

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By LEONARDO BOFF*

Covid-19 makes us rediscover the spirit in the cosmos, in human beings and in God

We live in a particularly anemic age of spirit. The lack of government policies by the current President to attack Covid-19 shows more than a lack of empathy and solidarity with the more than one hundred and fifteen thousand dead. It shows – what is more serious – the lack of spirit. It seems that the president still lives in the pre-human, primate stage. He does not care for or love life, the lives of his people.

Furthermore, the culture of capital that is based on consumption has drowned the spirit in opaque materiality. And without spirit we lose what is best in us: free communication, solidary cooperation, loving compassion, sensitive love and cordial sensitivity on the other side of all things, from where messages of beauty, greatness, of admiration, respect, veneration and transcendence.

There is one of the most important festivals in the Christian tradition, Pentecost, in which Christians celebrate the irruption of the Spirit on the frightened followers of Jesus. He transformed them into courageous messengers of his liberating message, reaching us to this day. In this tragic moment of drowning the spirit, which is the same as the murder of life, left by a virus, which the current denialist President disregards as a simple flu, it is worth reflecting on the spirit in lowercase and on the Spirit in capital letters.

The spirit: first in the universe then in us

We are uniquely bearers of great energy. It is the spirit in us. The spirit, from the perspective of the new cosmology (the science that studies the emergence of the universe, its expansion and evolution, where it is heading, what is its meaning and our place within this process), is as ancestral as the cosmos. Spirit is that ability that beings, even the most original ones, such as hadrons, topquarks, protons and atoms, have to relate to each other, exchange information and create networks of interretroconnections, responsible for the complex unity of the whole. It is part of the spirit to create ever taller and more elegant units.

The spirit is first in the world; only afterwards is it in us. Between the spirit of a tree and us the difference is not one of principle. Both are spirit bearers. The difference lies in the mode of its realization. In us human beings, spirit appears as self-awareness and freedom. In the tree for its vitality and relationships with the soil, with the sun's rays, the energies of the Earth and the cosmos; she feels, relates, nourishes herself and nature itself by sequestering CO2 and giving us oxygen without which we cannot live.

The human spirit is that moment of consciousness when one feels part of a greater whole, captures totality and unity and realizes that a thread connects and reconnects all things, making it a cosmos, not chaos. . As it relates to the Whole, the spirit in us makes us an infinite project, a total openness to the other, to the world and to God.

Therefore, life, consciousness and spirit belong to the general picture of things, to the universe, more concretely: to our galaxy, the Milky Way, the solar system and the planet Earth, the place where we live. For them to have arisen, a very refined calibration of all elements was necessary, especially the so-called constants of nature (speed of light, the four fundamental energies, the charge of electrons, atomic radiation, the curvature of space-time, among others). . If it weren't, we wouldn't be here writing about it.

I refer only to data from the book by the astrophysicist and mathematician Stephen Hawking entitled A brief history of time (2005): “Had the electrical charge of the electron been slightly different, it would have disrupted the balance of electromagnetic and gravitational force in stars and either they would have been unable to burn hydrogen and helium, or else they would not have exploded. One way or another, life could not exist” (p. 120). Life therefore belongs to the general framework of things and life is possessed by the spirit.

The weak and strong andropic principle

To give some understanding to this refined combination of factors, the expression “andropic principle” (which has to do with man) was coined. It seeks to answer this question that we naturally pose: why are things the way they are? The answer can only be: if it were different, we wouldn't be here. Answering this way, wouldn't we fall into the famous anthropocentrism that says: things only make sense when ordered to the human being, made the center of everything, king and queen of the universe?

There is that risk. That is why cosmologists distinguish the strong and weak andropic principle. The strong says: the initial conditions and the cosmological constants were organized in such a way that, at a given moment of evolution, life and intelligence should necessarily arise. This understanding would favor the centrality of the human being. The weak andropic principle is more cautious and states: the initial and cosmological preconditions were articulated in such a way that life and intelligence could arise. This formulation leaves open the path of evolution that is also governed by Heisenberg's principle of indeterminacy and by the autopoiesis by the Chilean biologists Maturana and Varela.

But looking back over the billions of years, we see that this actually happened: 3,8 billion years ago, life appeared and about four million years ago, intelligence. This is not a defense of "intelligent design" or the hand of divine Providence. Only that the universe is not absurd. It comes loaded on purpose. There is a time arrow pointing forward. As the astrophysicist and cosmologist Feeman Dyson stated: "it seems that the universe, somehow, knew that one day we would arrive" and prepared everything so that we could be welcomed and make our path of ascension in the evolutionary process. Interestingly, when in the process of evolution flowers appeared (before that everything was green), at that moment our ancestor appeared. It seems that the universe and God prepared a cradle of flowers for him to emphasize the high quality of this being who was starting his journey through the centuries to reach us.

The self-aware and bearer universe and spirit

The great mathematician and quantum physicist Amit Goswami, who often comes to Brazil, supports the thesis that the universe is self-conscious (the self-aware universe, Record 2002). In the human being he knows a singular emergence through which the universe itself, through us, sees itself, contemplates its majestic grandeur and reaches a certain culmination.

It is also worth considering that the cosmos is in genesis, it is not ready, it is still building itself and in continuous expansion. Each being shows an innate propensity to erupt, grow and radiate. The human being too. Appeared on the set when 99,96% of everything was ready. He is an expression of the cosmic drive towards more complex and higher forms of existence.

Some suggest the idea: but wouldn't it all be pure chance? Chance cannot be excluded, as Jacques Monod showed in his book Chance and Necessity, which earned him the Nobel Prize in Biology. But it doesn't explain everything. Biochemists have proven that for the amino acids and the two thousand enzymes underlying life to come together, form an orderly chain and form a living cell, it would take trillions and trillions of years. So longer than the universe and Earth actually have, which is 13,7 billion years. Recourse to chance is to honor ignorance. Better to say we don't know.

To say it more precisely: resorting to chance only shows our inability to understand superior and extremely complex orders such as consciousness, intelligence, affection and love. In this sense, perhaps Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's vision of the universe, according to which it becomes more and more complex and, thus, allows the emergence of consciousness and perception of an Omega point of evolution towards which we are traveling, is more adequate to express the very dynamics of the universe. Wouldn't it be better to be reverent and respectful in silence before the mystery of existence and the meaning of the universe?

After these reflections, we are already qualified to approach the theological dimension of the spirit as Creator Spirit.

 The Creator Spirit and Cosmogenesis

As it could not be otherwise, God is also included in the dimension of the spirit. And par excellence. He is present on the first page of the Bible when the creation of heaven and earth is narrated. It is said that about touwabohu, that is, over chaos, rather, over the primeval waters "a breath blew ruah (a wind, an energy) impetuous” (Gn 1,2). From that chaos he took all orders: the inanimate beings, the animate ones and the human being. To this one, plucked from the dust like all the others, God “breathed into his nostrils the ruah of life, the spirit, and he became a living being” (Gn 2,7). It is in chapter 37 of Ezekiel that the vital force of the spirit breaks out in an insurmountably plastic way. When this comes, the dry bones take on flesh and become life.

The highest expressions of the human being are also attributed to the presence of the spirit in him, such as wisdom and strength (Is 11,2), richness of ideas (Jn 32,28), artistic sense (Ex 28,3), the burning desire to see God and the feeling of guilt and the consequent penance (Ex 35,21; Jer 51,1; Esd 1,1; Es 26,9; Ps 34,19; Ez 11,19; 18,31) .

God “has” spirit

This creative and quickening force is eminently possessed by God. The Scriptures often speak of the spirit of God (Ruah Elohim). He is given to Samson to have portentous strength (Jg 14,6; 19,15), to the prophets to have the courage to denounce in the name of the poor of the Earth the injustices they suffer, to face the king, the powerful and announce to them the God's judgment.

Especially in inter-testamental Judaism, the outpouring of the spirit on every creature was expected at the end of time (Jl 2,28-32; Acts 2, 17-21). The Messiah will be “strong in spirit” and will come endowed with all the gifts of the spirit (Is 11,1ff).

It is in this context of late Judaism that the tendency to personify the spirit appears. It remains a quality of nature, of man and of God. But its action in history is so dense that it begins to gain autonomy. Thus it is said, for example, that "the spirit exhorts, is afflicted, cries out, rejoices, consoles, rests on someone, purifies, sanctifies and fills the universe". He is never thought of as a creature, but as something from God's world which, when manifested in life and history, transforms everything.

Spirit is God, God is Spirit

Understanding began to change when a decisive expression was coined: “spirit of holiness” or “holy spirit”. This formulation is somewhat ambiguous, since one can say holy spirit to avoid saying the name of God (something that Jews still today, out of respect, avoid) as one could mean God himself. For the Hebrew mentality, “holy” is the name par excellence for God, which is equivalent to saying in the Greek understanding: God as transcendent, distinct from each and every being of creation.

In summary, we can say: by the word spirit (ruah) applied to God (God “has” spirit, God sends his spirit, the spirit of God) the Jews expressed the following experience: God is not tied to anything; he breaks out where he wants; confounds human plans; it shows a force that none can resist; it reveals a wisdom that makes all our knowledge foolish. Thus, God showed himself to the political leaders, the prophets, the wise men, the people, especially in times of national crisis (Jz 6,33; 11, 29; 1 Sam 11,6).

Just as it is given to the king so that he may govern with wisdom and prudence, in this case King David (1 Sam 16,13), (hopefully he will give it to the anti-spirit president who (dis)governs us) it will also be given to the suffering servant, devoid of all pomp and grandiloquence (Is 42,1). In Is 61,1 it is explicitly said: "the spirit of Yahweh is upon me because Yahweh has anointed me... to proclaim the release of captives and good news for the poor", a text that Jesus will apply to himself in his first appearance in synagogue of Nazareth (Lk 4, 17-21). Finally, God's spirit not only signals his innovative action in the world, but points to God's very being. The spirit is God. And God is Spirit. As God is holy, the Spirit will be the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is all-pervading, all-encompassing, beyond all limitation. “Where shall I go to be away from your Spirit? Where shall I flee to be far from your face? If I climb the heavens, you are there, if I put myself in the abyss, you are there too” (Sl 139,7) Even evil is not beyond his reach. Everything that has to do with mutation, disruption, life and newness has to do with spirit. The Holy Spirit is so united with history that it is transformed from profane into holy and sacred history.

The Spirit in a Spiritless and Degrading World

Today we feel the urgency of the Holy Spirit's irruption as on the first morning of creation. The Earth Charter, in the face of the global ecological crisis, with negative energies that can drag us to the abyss, states: “As never before in history, common destiny calls us to seek a new beginning. This requires a change of mind and heart. It requires a new sense of global interdependence and universal responsibility… We still have much to learn from the joint search for (ultimate) truth and wisdom”.

Pope Francis also says in his encyclical On caring for our common home: “We have never mistreated and hurt the Common Home as we have in the last two centuries (n. 53). If “we don't change our unsustainable lifestyle – he continues – we can only lead to catastrophes” (n.161).

It is up to the Spirit to enlighten our minds and transform our hearts. If we make this conversion, we will hardly escape the threats that weigh on the life-system and Earth-system. It is up to the Spirit to transform destructive chaos into creative chaos, as it operated in the first moment of the Big Bang. He can transform a tragedy like the current one of Covid-19 into a harrowing crisis that allows us to take a qualitative leap towards a new order, higher, more humane, but cordial, more loving and more spiritual. The universe, the Earth, and each of us are temples of Spirit. He will not allow it to be dismantled and destroyed. This request is urgent for the current situation when the Earth as a whole is attacked by a lethal virus that is decimating thousands of lives.

It is important to plead with the Spirit: Come, Creator Spirit! Renew the face of the Earth, warm our hearts and open up a horizon of meaning and hope for our dehumanized human reality and now put at risk of thousands disappearing victims of the Covid-19 intrusion. Science, technique and vaccine are fundamental. But with them alone it is not guaranteed that we will avoid going back to what it was before. For this we need another spirit that gives centrality to what counts: life, cooperation, interdependence, generosity and care for nature and for each other. If we don't make this paradigm shift, we could be attacked again and even more lethally.

*Leonardo Boff he is an ecologist, one of the editors of the Earth Charter and a writer. Author, among other books by Meditation on Light: The Path of Simplicity (Voices).

 

 

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