While preparing a short reflection on the Spirit in my life, I remembered something I had read by Karl Rahner, and I was able to put my hand on it. 

In the chapter “A Theology of Everyday Life” of his book The Mystical Way in Everyday Life, Rahner wrote about the ‘Experience of Grace in Everyday Life’, and what is particularly relevant to me at this time, on ‘a true experience of spirit’ (pp. 184-188).

The passage in question is too long to share in a couple of minutes, so I will not use it for my presentation. But it is too good not to share at all, this is why I am posting this excerpt below (pp. 185-187).


Where then is there a true experience of spirit? About that we want to say first: Let us try to discover the spirit in our own experience. One can point only in a tentative and rather cautious manner to one or the other thing.

    Have we ever remained silent even though we wished to defend ourselves, even though we had been treated unjustly?
    Have we ever forgiven, even though we did not get rewarded for it and the quiet act of forgiveness was taken for granted?
    Have we ever been obedient, not because we had to and wanted to avoid negative consequences, but purely on the account of the mysterious, silent, incomprehensible one we call God and his will?
    Have we ever sacrificed without a thank you, without a recognition, even without a sense of inner satisfaction?
    Have we ever been utterly alone?
    Have we ever made a decision solely on the deepest voice of our conscience, the place where one cannot talk to anyone, cannot make things clear to anyone, where one is totally alone and knows one is making a decision that will not be accepted by a single person and for which one will have to pay from here on out?
    Have we ever tried to love God when we were no longer carried by a wave of passionate excitement, when we could no longer confuse our own self and our drive in life with God, when it seemed we would die of such love and when it resembled death and total negation, when we felt as if we were calling out to a void and to utter unresponsiveness, when we appeared to be faced with making a terrible jump into an abyss, when everything seemed elusive and meaningless?
    Have we ever done our duty in a way that carried with it the burning sensation that we were utterly betraying our convictions and canceling ourselves out by apparently committing a terrible blunder, by doing what no one would thank us for?
    Have we ever been good to someone and received no word of gratitude, no acknowledgment, not even the reward of being recognized as having acted selflessly, or fairly, or kindly?

Let us search our life to see if we have ever known such things. When we find them we will recognize that we have experienced the spirit that we are talking about. The experience of eternity, the experience that the spirit is more than a piece of this temporal world, the experience that the purpose of being human does not rise and fall with the meaning and happiness of this world, the experience of courage and of faith that risks a leap, a faith not supported by reason or derived from the world’s principles of success.

From that we can understand the secret passion that resides in people of the spirit and in the saints. They want to have this experience. Forever driven by the hidden fear of becoming stuck in the world, they want to reassure themselves and so they begin living in the spirit. While the average person considers such experiences as unpleasant though not entirely unavoidable interruptions of the normal course of life and views spirit as merely the spice and decorative flavor of a different life but not life’s essential ingredient, people of the spirit and the saints have tasted the flavor of pure spirit. They drink it pure, so to speak, and do not merely enjoy it as the spice of earthly existence. It is the reason for their strange way of life, their poverty, their desire for humility, their longing for death, their willingness to suffer, their secret longing for martyrdom. Not that they do not have weaknesses. Not that they have no need to be always returning to the ordinariness of the everyday. Not that they do not know that grace can also bless everyday life and thoughtful activity and can transform each action into a step toward God. Not that they do not know that we are no angels and should not wish to be. But they know that the human being is supposed to live as spirit in concrete human existence, not merely in speculative thought but truly at the border between God and world, time and eternity. And they continually try to make sure that they are actually doing so, that the spirit within them does not just become a means that facilitates existence.


Photo: Karl Rahner, SJ