“We Are Spirits Having a Human Experience,” by Donna Hutchins

A message given at Durham Friends Meeting on September 16, 2018 by Donna Hutchins

Good Morning Friends.  I heard this quote a few years back and it has stuck with me. I think of it often and I thought it would make a good message. I hope I can deliver it the way I feel it needs to be delivered.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin:  My Sophomore French is very rusty…and although I You Tubed the pronunciation of his name…I’m not gonna try to do it for you…. I’m sure many of you have heard his quote:

“We are not humans having a spiritual experience; We are spirits having a human experience.”

I think some people tend to confuse spirituality with religion. I think there are times when we humans think that being religious is the same as being spiritual … For me Religion is more specific than spirituality. Some religions come with a tenet or creed, specific to their beliefs.  Christianity has the Nicene Creed, Judaism has the Shehmah prayer, Islam has the Shahada.

Different religions have different ways in which to worship. Catholicism has full mass on Sunday and a daily mass with an actively responsive congregation, Quakers meet on First Day in silent meditative worship,  or some variation of that… Judaism observes worship on shabbat which is from Friday at sundown until Saturday afternoon.  Religion also comes with a place of worship, a temple, a church, a meetinghouse, a mosque…

The definition I found online describes Religion as a particular system of faith and worship.

Spirituality is more eclectic. It has no hard set guidelines. One can be spiritual in the out of doors or in a house, with a mouse, on a boat or with a goat… you get the picture….to be spiritual one only needs to believe.

And I found this definition of spirituality on line:  “Spirituality is a broad concept with room for many perspectives. In general, it includes a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, and it typically involves a search for meaning in life. As such, it is a universal human experience—something that touches us all.”

So…….back to the quote…the first parts says: We are not humans having a spiritual experience.

For most of my life I have been searching for that spiritual experience. To have that strong faith that my mother had, to be overwhelmed with Jesus and his teachings the way my sister is…to feel that something others feel when they speak of their devotion and in the way they live their lives.

I have searched in the silent worship of Portland Friends, the semi programed meeting here in Durham, the congregational church in my hometown, the Episcopal Holy Eucharist with my Great Aunt, the Evangelical path with my born again sister, the Catholic Church with my husband.

When I was very young, I attended Portland Friends with my very patient mother. I remember it as a child, sitting in a circle, in an often cold and bare room…squirming in my chair…staring at the clock that never seemed to move…and listening to the gentleman behind me softly snore. As a child, I never understood the want or the need to be quiet.

In my teens I was allowed to venture out and explore other options. I went to the local Congregational church and joined the youth group with my high school friends where we held dances and retreats…fun but not a lot of religion.

I tried the evangelical path with my older and wiser sister. Lead by the Pastor Carl Stevens my soul would be saved. His hellfire and brimstone sermons lasted for hours and left me in such fear of God and my past that I felt the need for salvation. But…within just a few short years of that professed dedication to our Lord and Savior, I attended a sermon that spoke of the sin of vanity and self appreciation, all the while the dear pastor wore his blonde toupee. The irony was not lost on me and I never went back. Disheartened I stopped attending church for a while.

Years later, married with children, I joined the Catholic Church with my husband and drove into the faith full throttle. I took adult classes, did the Easter Eve confession…baptism …confirmation…first communion…we had our marriage blessed and I became a eucharistic minister, a sexton, and a sacristan. I went to mass every….single….day. But after years of this dedication, I left that too. Feeling underwhelmed by the ‘results’ and feeling more like one of a flock just following orders.

The second part of the quote goes: We are spirits having a human experience

At one point in my life I was living a rather solitary existence…. My husband was military and away more often than not…leaving my young son and I to live nestled deep in the woods, on the side of a mountain, just above a crystal clear lake. In my solitude, I became more interested in my surroundings, the pine and fir trees that season after season never lost their needles….standing tall and graceful through the harshest winter….. the oak and the elm that would produce the most amazing color changes for each season.. from vivid green in Spring to gold, red and orange in the Autumn….the water of the lake that provided life for the water foul, the fish and creatures of the woods…. the land that sustained me with wood for fire and shelter from the storms, the wildlife that entertained me in my solitude… all the things I felt God had placed there just for me. I would sit for hours, in total silence save for the wind in the trees, the knocking of the woodpecker on a lively oak, the coo of the mourning dove, the chatter of the chipmunks as they gathered their nuts and seeds for the winter, the cry of the coy dogs in the dark of night…All of God’s creatures stirring in the woods around me. I would walk for miles on the mountain roads or on the long forgotten cattle trails in the woods without seeing another human, totally at peace with this solitude. On rainy days I would curl up in a chair with a cup of coffee on the covered porch, listening to the steady drizzle of rain on the tin roof and watch the rivers of water pour from the eaves onto the path below. I enjoyed the randomly placed lady slippers, scattered among the wild low bush blueberries.

This wasn’t a religious experience, there was no creed, no preacher, no building, no other human with me.

At some point, in the quiet of those woods, I started to believe. And more than just believe, I felt. I felt peace, serenity and love.

Remember  Alexander Pope’s “To err is human” “To forgive divine.”? 

 As humans we are flawed. We love and we hate..we want peace and yet we wage war…we feel compassion and malice…we give birth and we take lives….. But…I believe that our spirits are inherently good. I believe that it is our spirit having a human experience that moves us to feed the poor, house the homeless, aid the sick, rally for peace and accomplish great and compassionate deeds.

If our spirits live on forever, and are truly inherently good, then our spirits need to feel the flaws of our humanness. And if spirituality is the search for the meaning of life, and life is experienced though being human, it makes sense that our spirits must have that human experience in order to develop and grow.

I believe that this quote should read

We ARE humans having a spiritual experience but we are ALSO spirits having a human experience.