Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Regarding Spirituality and Etymology

The noun form "spirituality" is used to denote the state of being spiritual. The word Spiritual is clearly the adjective form of spirit. Etymology freaks oft enjoy espousing the fact that the word spirit joined the English language via the Old French espirit (modern French substitutes "esprit"), which was harvested from Latin's spiritus. They will then extemporize a rapid explanation that spiritus is derived from spirare, which is generally agreed to mean "to breathe" or "to blow."

Amateur etymologists with an agenda will quickly cite other spirare derivatives; respirare (which begat the English respiration) and comspirare (which gave us conspire, conspiracy, etc.) are the favorite choices when the intent is to undermine the mystical and religious connotations of the word spiritual. Those who seek a broader idea of the varied meanings that can be derived from spirare may well consider the source of their inspiration and examine their aspirations carefully.

Based on the varied uses, it appears that the concept and connotation behind spirare was never limited to the physical and material "breath." Yes, there are lesser-used invocations of inspiration and aspiration that simply denote the processes referred to in the opening lyrics to Machine Head (by Bush). Their prevalent modern usage, however, connotes mental states that are rather incorporeal in nature. If that alone doesn't bake your noodle, consider the relative interchangability of "spirit" and "soul" in the King James translation of the bible. This can of worms can lead pretty deep into the etymological gene pool, so I'll summarize quickly (and leave the Hebrew ruah out of the discussion completely):
  • Latin: animare - to give life to; anima - soul or breath; animus - spirit
  • Greek: anemos - wind; pneuma - spirit, wind or breath; psykhe - soul, self, mind
This leads directly into a key discussion that spans a broad tapestry of philosophy and religion: namely, how are the body, mind, soul, and spirit related. We have not arrived at the one true answer to this quandry in millennia of human history, and neither a solution nor absolution are available in this post.

So, you may ask, "What is the point of this post?" That answer is simple. Regardless of your system of values, your background, your socialization, and your chosen religion, there is likely to be something that inspires you and invokes a sense of awe and wonder. The source of your spirituality may prove to be either ecclesiastical or secular in nature. The disparate origins may be either material or immaterial to your belief system. The common admonition of religion and psychology is to find the aforementioned thing and embrace it; breathe it in; let it give life to you and lift your spirits. Irrespective and regardless of the source, you can safely defend your personal spirituality through the magic of etymology...

*: Give yourself two extra bonus karma cookies (TM) if you have discovered the remaining obvious spirare derivative that has not yet appeared in this post...[answer]