Give Me Back My Material World

Most spiritual or abstract concepts are named by words with material or concrete etymologies. "Great" now means "very good," but it used to mean "big. It still sometimes means big, as in your "great toe." "Gross" means disgusting and used to mean big. Major meant bigger. Grand used to mean big. Grand is the opposite of petty, which used to mean small. Mega still sometimes means big and sometimes means many.


It's not just size, either. Brilliant used to mean shining. Dull and sharp retain their material meanings while gaining the meanings stupid and smart. Impact used to mean colliding with something physically, and now it's more likely to mean subjective effect. Karitas used to mean charity, and it's come to mean love. Love is an inward orientation, caring about someone as distinct from physically caring for them. Time and again people have tried to describe the abstract and have used concrete terms as metaphors.


Breath is a real material thing, and it's become spirit, psyche, or qi.


The Bible calls Adam a "soul." Greeks taught that the soul was the immaterial, immortal self inhabiting the body, but the Hebrews meant a breathing thing, not a ghost. The ancient Hebrews lived in the material world, where when you died, it was over for you. Your breath returned to God, and your lifeless body went to the pit, sheol. But today we're raised in a spiritual world, in which our immaterial souls have destinies far beyond this material realm. I want the material world back. It's our heritage, but we chucked it in favor of sweet dreams. The world around you is the real world, just like the ancient Hebrews knew.


October 2007



In case you can't tell, the fire dancer on the right is unbelievably gorgeous.