When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 15:13)
Much of what we read in John’s Gospel about the Spirit of truth, the Advocate, is hard to grasp. One thing we do know about the Spirit of truth, though, is that the guidance from that Spirit will help us see what is real — what is really real — and what is merely imagined or supposed. If we follow the guidance of the Spirit, we are grounded or anchored in reality.
The past several months have been stressful ones for me. Part of that stress is personal: I’ve been sick much of the time, family members have been sick, and two family members died. However, feeling extra stress seems to be widespread this year. Our national political conversation — if it can even be called a conversation — is unlike anything I remember experiencing before, and the lack of civility and the frequent lack of reason in our political speech seems to have seeped into other areas of our lives. Fear of where all of this might lead seems to be pervasive among people across the political spectrum. And those of us who are keenly aware of what scientists have been telling us about climate change from anthropogenic global warming realize that our decisions in this century — certainly our political decisions, but also our decisions in many other areas of our lives — have greater potential for good or ill than at any other time in human history.
I mentioned to my spiritual director this week that I have been feeling disoriented in time and thought it had to do with all the crises of various sizes that have disrupted my life over the past year. Because of everything else that has been happening, the rhythm of my weeks and the rhythm of holidays and of nature’s seasons have been disrupted frequently. I was surprised when my spiritual director said a lot of people have been reporting the same thing. This has been an unusual spring where we live, with many spring blooms appearing much earlier than usual, but with a couple of spells of unusually cool weather as well. Some days so far this May have seemed like perfect “What is so rare as a day in June?” days, while others have felt like late October.
But as I thought about feeling disoriented in time, I realized how disoriented many people are in space as well. How often does someone nearly walk into us — and how often do motorists hit something — as a result of being distracted by electronic devices? One thing I like about my iPhone is the escape it can provide if I’m sitting in a waiting room, but an “escape” that in reality leaves me right where I was is of course not a true escape at all; it’s merely a purposeful disorientation, a means of making myself feel like I’m someplace else. And it’s not all about electronics. We can travel around the country, for example, and never experience local food or culture thanks to chain restaurants, hotels, and stores. We can easily imagine ourselves to be someplace other than where we are.
For a variety of reasons, we find ourselves unanchored or ungrounded in all sorts of ways at precisely the point of history when we most need to connect with and understand the reality of what is happening in the world. We need to remain ever open to the Spirit of truth instead of trying to escape into a false reality, but instead of experiencing the guidance of the Spirit we often find ourselves instead in a swirl of thoughts, claims — many of them false claims — and events that seem all important one day and are forgotten the next. I suspect that one of the reasons we allow our leaders to get away with an inadequate response to global warming is that most of us are untethered enough from reality to believe it is less urgent than it is.
Staying grounded or anchored in reality is a necessity for spiritual health. If we become ungrounded, we forget who we are (and whose we are) and we forget what we really believe deep down in our hearts. The state of ungroundedness allows just the sort of political chaos we are witnessing now, one major piece of which is the way we have collectively lost sight of the important task of caring for our one and only planet.
Late spring is a great time to reconnect with the seasons and experience a deeper connection to our locale. Tending to the soil and growing some of our own food whether in a large garden plot or a container on a front stoop makes us aware of the season and the weather while it helps us slow down. Walking outdoors gives us a chance to look around and see where we are; walking lets us see the shifts in light as the day or the season unfolds. It lets us see which flowers are blooming and what sorts of birds, insects, and other animals are around. When we walk outdoors, we might hear the birds singing, a sound that is restorative for souls that have become unanchored.
Gently reconnecting ourselves to reality through intentional practices like gardening and walking allows us to be resilient in the face of the harsher truths of our world. Staying connected, allowing the Spirit to guide us in the truth, helps us find the strength, wisdom, and compassion to respond to the world’s needs as effectively and compassionately as we can. When we make a connection with the real world around us, we will find Jesus in that connection.
Trinity Sunday reminded us that God is relationship. If God is relationship, it isn’t surprising that we find God when we turn away from the false perception of ourselves as beings independent of one another and independent of our biosphere. If God is relationship, then of course we grow closer to God when we realize our interdependence and realize our true place in time and space.