Consider the phrase “the letter and spirit of the Constitution”. Or the phrase “she is with us in spirit”. What does spirit mean in these cases?
It means meaning. It means essence.
We search for meaning — it appears to be the primary human occupation. We are convinced there is purpose behind everything, we think there must be a reason for our being here, we even speak of an almighty agency that assigns purpose. So convinced are we of its existence, that we take to wondering if “spirituality has disappeared from modern culture”.
There never was a time when we didn’t ask this question. For those among us who think meaning and spirit must exist, the fact that it is not evident anywhere in reality, brings dissatisfaction. People in every age have complained about creeping materialism and lack of religion. There have always been people who have said that there isn’t enough spirituality. There never seems to be enough!
We make a distinction between what is mundane and what is spiritual. And then we put the spiritual on a pedestal without clearly defining it. Truth is, meaning does exist, but it is not an objective quantity that comes to us from on high. It is something we create on an ongoing basis. It never disappears. Its definition changes.
Abrahamic thought puts sex in the mundane bracket (pleasures of the flesh and all that) but there are those who have considered sex as a means to spirituality. Similarly, scientific inquiry is considered by many to be a discipline that necessarily deals with the mundane, but Einstein called his work an attempt to understand the “mind of god”.
Matters of spirit will always find themselves under threat by the mundane reality of the world. This is because they are a means for human beings to deal with the mundane world. They must necessarily come into conflict with realities of human society. And the reality is that there is nothing spiritual except what we decide to call spiritual.