Thoughts & Insights

For the Clarity of Spirit

The question of the spirit that inhabits and animates us humans is one that has been asked since the dawn of time. And on the Whitsunday of such a momentous year as this – and we haven’t even seen the half of it – it’s one that is being aired with a particular urgency – not just by those who know and understand the meaning of this day.

It would be impossible, foolhardy and presumptuous of me to try and give an answer to such a question in just a few paragraphs. Across the centuries the greatest thinkers have devoted all their powers to answering it and yet it still remains an open question that continually needs to be reformulated and asked anew.

If today on Pentecost I now take it as the subject of these Thoughts & Insights, I do so not least of all in loving memory of my friend Annemarie Monteil. She was already eighty years old when I first met her through Fritz Haller, the visionary architect and erstwhile mentor of OUBEY, during work on the MINDKISS Project following OUBEYs death and Pentecost was her favorite feast. She was a thoughtful and sharp-minded woman who remained active even in old age and was respected and honored as Switzerland’s “grande dame of art criticism”. Our first encounter in 2005 happily led to a friendship that endured until her death eighteen months ago. A friendship that not only endured but deepened into a profound intellectual and spiritual affinity through our mutual visits, our ever longer intimate conversations and our personal correspondence of a kind not often seen today.

The story of a rushing mighty wind from heaven filling the house where the Apostles were gathered, setting cloven tongues of fire on them and filling them with the Holy Spirit, as recounted in the Acts of the Apostles, is an interesting example of early storytelling which had an impact at its time and still is celebrated even today by a public holiday in some European countries. It´s told that it was in this Spirit that the early Church was founded. Yet more than two thousand years later and we still haven’t got a Church that is truly imbued with such a Spirit. At least thanks to the spread of the questioning spirit of the enlightenment we can say that it’s pointing more and more in the right direction nowadays.

Given the present propagation of the most absurd and preposterous conspiracy theories which spring from the feverish brains of the unenlightened and work their malice in the wider world, clarity of spirit appears a most desirable commodity. And a more philosophical slant to our everyday thinking would also be most helpful.

Science is quite right in claiming “clarity of spirit” for itself as it is a research, analysis and evidence-based discipline of human thought. But as it continually ventures into new and previously undiscovered worlds which it seeks to understand and explain, it can never be free of error. Many scientific discoveries which were long and rightly considered as unimpeachable have now been revealed to be at least dubious if not totally false by new research. This is why clarity of spirit in each science also includes awareness of one’s own fallibility to errors and false conclusions.

It’s different with art. Art can be neither right nor wrong when it’s art that is truly free and serves no kind of interests, neither ideological, political nor monetary. “In my art I have always tried to create a clear space for the Spirit”, said Henri Matisse who continually stimulated his own spirit by travelling the world as few artists of his time did, discovering its great diversity – always in the quest for light.

Yet it doesn’t have to be the travels of an artist around the world. Every one of us who keeps their spirit lively and open for things new, different and surprising can always embark on a journey into their innermost being or equally into the possibilities of a brighter future. This spirit doesn’t need the seal of holiness to bring people forward.

Dass sich ausgerechnet am heutigen Pfingstsonntag, nach fünf Tagen und Nächten des Protests in vielen nordamerikanischen Städten ein neuer Geist offenbart, ist wohl das, was man einen Zufall nennt. Er zeigte sich im Handeln eines einzelnen Menschen, des Sheriffs von Flint in Minnesota, Chris Swanson. Er machte das unmöglich scheinende möglich, indem er die protestierenden Demonstranten, die nach dem Tod des Afro-Amerikaners George Lloyd durch brutale Polizeigewalt in Minneapolis fünf Tage zuvor Respekt, Gerechtigkeit und das Ende der Rassenjustiz in den USA forderten, was er ihrer Meinung nach tun soll. Ihre Antwort: “Geh´mit uns”. Das tat er und forderte die anwesenden Polizisten, es ihm gleich zu tun. Und sie taten es. So einfach kann es sein, wenn der Geist klar und das Herz offen ist. Möge dieser klare Geist ansteckend sein, von Dauer und nachhaltiger Wirkung.

That a new mindset should finally have revealed itself on this very Whitsunday after five days and nights of protest in many North American cities is certainly what you could call a happy coincidence. It showed itself in the behavior of a single man, the sheriff of Flint, Minnesota, Chris Swanson. He made the seemingly impossible possible by asking the protesters who were demanding respect, justice and an end to racism in the USA in the wake of the brutal murder of the Afro-American George Floyd at the hands of the police: what they want him to do. Their answer was: “Walk with us”. He did. And he requested the assembled police force to join with him. It can be as simple as that. If the spirit is clear and the heart open. May this spirit be infectious on long term and of sustainable impact.

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