Center for Sacred Psychology

Soul Food Archive: Spiritual Practice

Since earliest times, and throughout the world's cultures, seekers have found differing ways to understand the relationship between the visible and the invisible.  Here are three such ways, leading to some questions:

Does one of these approaches describe my point of view?
Am I content with this perception...or, am I drawn to another?
How does my viewpoint affect my family? my friendships? my work? my play? my inner life?





Spirit and Matter as Adversaries (two possibilities):


Spirit is perceived as superior to matter, therefore higher.  Matter may even be seen as evil.  The seeker's task, therefore, is to climb the 'holy ladder' (or scala)* up, up and away to the realm of spirit.  Forces from the material world--pictured as demons in this early Christian example--try to thwart one's ascent.


The other possibility: matter is what's important.  The spiritual is considered either a fantasy, or a negative force--at best, a distraction from the work at hand and, at worst, an enemy.

These dualistic viewpoints can result in dismissal,
or even loathing, of one or the other realm.







Spirit and Matter as Parallel Realities:

There are two "real worlds"--equally valued, but seen as separate...except for special instances when they intersect.  When spirit breaks through into matter in epiphanies and peak experiences, we speak of "Aha! moments," or showings, or oceanic times.  We awake from a numinous dream and know we've been somewhere else.  Nature often offers us glimpses of the other world: in this famous picture, the heavens have connected Ezechiel to a parallel reality*.

We discover thresholds to the thin places between the mundane and the intangible, and incorporate these into daily life: certain people or animals, or rituals, or the arts, or physical activities and other spiritual practices can serve as passports.  For many, special places--in olden days, hidden wells and springs and caves--create portals into the world of spirit.   And favorite books and films with sliding panels or magical wardrobes or secret doors remind us of that which is yet-to-be-discovered; science fiction pictures entire imaginal worlds analogous to a cosmos within.


This viewpoint can lead to expectant living, watchful waiting for the next surprise appearance of the invisible... which many speak of as "the holy."





Spirit and Matter in Intimate Union:

The barriers between matter and spirit gradually dissolve. We learn to see with the inner eye or eye of the heart, like this Hasidic hose-maker*...and end up agreeing with Elizabeth Browning that "earth's crammed with heaven." Modern physics increasingly bears out this attitude, confirming Rich Heffern's trust that "the universe is awash with tiny diamonds" and Walt Whitman's awareness of "splendor in the grass."

In many traditions, the ability to perceive matter saturated with spirit is thought of as a gift--one for which we can predispose ourselves, but cannot create solely through intellect or will.

This unitive viewpoint can transform everyday life and the simplest of daily tasks--eating, bill-paying, driving, even knitting socks--into an immersion in mystery.








Below, a wondrous photograph from Japan: #352 Kashimagawa, by Tokihiro Sato, 1998*

What would it be like to move through such an ensouled world?
Could perception of Spirit and Matter with the eye of the heart lead to this sort of vision?


We're interested in ways this Soul Food may have touched your life.

Click HERE to send us your comments...


Read Others' Comments...

"I'm taking the little sparks of light with me on a trip to see family. What a help these sparks of wonder have been to me for seeing in new ways.  My soul especially loves the website and sings a happy lilting melody along with the beautiful pictures and sweet words of wisdom."
Michele, Colorado


"I'm so glad I found your Website! I think it was Jung and/or Von Franz who once said (to paraphrase): Spirit and Matter are two different expressions of the same thing!"
Adele Chatelain



* Credits for this page:

~ Line rendering detail of 12th c. icon, "The Heavenly Ladder of St.John Climacus," based on John's 7th c. text, The Ladder of Divine Ascent.  Holy Monastery of St.Catherine at Mount Sinai, Egypt.

~ German woodcut, late 14th century, Ezechiel's vision of wheels in the sky [Ez 1:15-21].

~ "The Hose-Maker" by Barbara Garrison, from Tales of the Hasidim, the Early Masters by Martin Buber [NY: Schocken Books, 1947, 1975); adapted, permission pending.

~ "#352 Kashimagawa," 1998.  Light formation photograph by Tokihiro Sato (b.1957, Sakata, Japan).  One of a series of long-exposure gelatin silver transparencies, back-lit.  From Photo Respiration, catalog of the 2005 exhibition of Sato's photography at the Art Institute of Chicago.  With thanks to the museum for permission to reproduce for a limited time.