September 28, 2013

Reflections: Warming up to 'the burn of being' invites, enlivens spiritual conversations


I've noticed a strange thing over my years of seeking spiritual water for my thirsty soul. It seems to me that we are all thirsty for what my Christian tradition calls "living water" but too few understand that all life is about soul.

REFLECTIONS is a column written by members of Maine's faith-based community. Opinions expressed in the column reflect the author's view and not necessarily that of the newspaper.

Everyone everywhere will admit to a thirst. Yet many don't seem to know that our thirst, from mother's milk to food on the table to a roof over our heads is soul thirst as well as physical need. From the beginning all thirst, all hunger, all longing call for relationships and relationship is always about soul.

The more deeply we understand that we all, including all creatures great and small, the whole of the ecosystem and the universe are in this together, mutually dependent, each a sacred aspect of the sacred whole, the more deeply our soul thirst is satisfied.

Abraham Maslow and his "hierarchy of needs" and Richard Dawkins and his "selfish gene" tell us part of what life is about. Dawkins says soul has nothing to do with anything. He says life at root is the genes using us to reproduce themselves. That's part of the truth, far from enough. Maslow says soul concerns have their place after the basic physical needs are attended to. I dare to challenge them and say that physical thirst, hunger and sexual craving are about physical life, but seeing life as only physical leads to what Peggy Lee, some decades ago, sang about when she asked "Is That All There Is?"

We start out as do baby birds when the parent returns to the nest with a morsel. Stage by stage, life opens us by way of appetite and aspiration to the spiritual breakthrough that puts us in the choir with St. Augustine singing, praying, "My heart is restless O God until it rests in Thee."

I was at Sullivan Tire the other day waiting for my car to be serviced and used the time to read from a book I find spectacular, Christian Wiman's "My Bright Abyss." In the Preface he writes, "When my life broke open seven years ago (He fell in love and he discovered he has cancer in the same year.), I knew very well that I believed in something. Exactly what I believed, however, was considerably less clear. So I set out to answer that question, though I had come to realize that the real question -- the real difficulty -- is how, not what. How do you answer the burn of being? What might it mean for your life -- and your death -- to acknowledge that insistent, persistent ghost called God?"

Wiman thrills my mind and soul. Reading him I wanted to stand up and shout to the half dozen people, employees and customers, in the room, "Does anyone want to talk about God?" Of course it wasn't the time or place. Had I done it the room would probably have cleared. But I believe that everyone, near the surface or deep down, consciously or unconsciously, feels the "burn of being" and the insistent, persistent whispered hounding of "the ghost called God."

How about you? Do you know what I am trying to say when I talk about being in heat to connect with Life? Have you glimpsed the Light that illuminates the More? Do you understand about Love, that it is the divine nature and it is your nature and it doesn't make life easier but makes it worthwhile, is the source of meaning?

Wiman talks about "the persistent gravity of the ghost called God." Does anyone want to talk about it, share the pain and joy of our stories and find in them and the shared search a deeper knowing of the Ghost who draws our restless hearts toward the bright abyss?

Most spiritual conversations can't be about doctrine these days. Language of belief is hard in our modern world but language is still vital in our spiritual search and finding. The language of soul can be spoken.

I lead a group at the moment called "Seekers" that is finding language for our soul searching. We are reading Wiman. Great fun. The Rev. Ellie Mercer and I will be leading a group in January borrowing its title from Richard Rohr, "Learning to See as Mystics See." There are many opportunities in churches, synagogues, mosques, Chime, OLLI, and various reading groups in libraries and homes all around for these conversations. If you can't find one start one. Buy "My Bright Abyss" and invite friends in for coffee and conversation. In your own way stand up and shout, "Does anyone want to talk about God?" Who knows what might happen? It could be fun, maybe life changing.

Contact Bill Gregory, an author and retired minister, at:


Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Further Discussion

Here at we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)