Grace Ji-Sun Kim has written or edited 19 books, including Keeping Hope Alive: Sermons and Speeches of Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. She teaches at Earlham School of Religion.
Grace Ji-Sun Kim
“By adding the word holy in front of keywords, such as in the terms Holy God, Holy Bible, Holy Spirit, Holy Catholic Church, Holy Communion, Holy, etc., we’ve made non-Christians weary of hearing us talk with all of this canonized holiness in our lexicon.”
When my book Holy Spirit, Chi and the Other was being published, I had a long conversation with my editor about the book title. I submitted my manuscript under the title Spirit Within. I intentionally excluded the word holy before the word spirit, which the publisher didn’t agree with. I tried hard to get the publisher on the same page as me and use my preferred title.
This begs the question: Why was I, as a Christian, so adamant that the word holy not be used in a Christian book? Why omit a word with such profound meaning, and such sacred weight to the theological language? Is it because of how this word can be simply flung into titles, writings, and expressions with meaningless fluidity? Is it because I think that somehow it did not advocate for the theme or message of the book? No.
Instead, it was a conscious consideration of those non-Christians that may see the book. The ones who see the word spirit and think of transcendent spirituality and then see the word holy and think of moral superiority and hostility. Some perceive Christians as antiquated, ignorant, empire building, patriarchal, and prejudiced.
In the secular world, it is no doubt that Christians don’t have the best reputation. People see us and think that we consider ourselves better than other religious groups and non-religious people. By adding the word holy in front of key words such as Holy God, Holy Bible, Holy Spirit, Holy Catholic Church, Holy Communion, Holy etc., we’ve made non-Christians weary of hearing us talk with all of this canonized holiness in our lexicon.
The word holy means “worthy of complete devotion, as one perfect in goodness” or simply “sacred.” We Christians love to use the word holy because it gives us the feeling—the perceived possession—of holding the almighty truth and knowledge of the divine, and this includes the Holy Spirit. Thus, in its use, holy can appear to others that hear us utter it as a word used by those who know more about God or all about God. It makes Christians appear that we are the only ones who experience, know, and can conceive the infinite notion of God who is Spirit. In a way, we are monopolizing the notion of the Spirit.
Growing up biculturally in both Asian culture and Western culture, I learned how important it was to accept” numerous ways of thinking—particularly in our pursuit of understanding of the Spirit. In Asia, and in Korea particularly, we talk about Spirit all the time. We use the word Chi or Ki. We ask each other “how is your Chi?” or say to one another “your Chi is low today.” When we go to taekwondo classes, we use our Chi to draw energy and concentrate on our moves. Acupuncture is about perfecting the movement of Chi in one’s body to alleviate the pain or harm that is active within. Tai chi and reiki use the understanding of the movement of Chi to strengthen and heal our bodies.
In many ways, Chi is part of our everyday lives. Chi means energy, spirit, life-giving spirit, wind, breath. When people die, the Chi leaves their bodies and that is why a dead body becomes cold. In the earliest depictions of the word, Chi written in the Chinese character looked like a bowl of steaming rice. In much of Asia, rice is everything. It is our ancestor’s livelihood. Rice is part of our everyday. It is something that keeps us alive.
Asians imagine Chi as essential and part of our everyday, and this provides a glimpse on how others can view the Spirit. Christianity uses ruach in the Old Testament and pneuma as Spirit. Both of these words have the same meaning as Chi in Asia. Spirit means energy, wind, breath, life-giving spirit. It is the Spirit of God which hovers over the Earth and all of creation and breathes life into everything.
The Spirit of God is in all things and in all people. The Spirit was present in Africa before the white Christians went in to evangelize. The Spirit was present in Asia, South America, and other parts of the world before white missionaries proclaimed the good news. The Spirit of God is what gives us life and teaches us that there is something greater beyond ourselves. It is the Spirit of God that permeates all of life; it is what sustains us, heals us, embraces us, and renews us.
It doesn’t matter whether you are Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, or non-religious, the Spirit which gives life is all around us and in us. It is what gives us life. It needs no descriptive antecedent. It needs no holy. Spirit encompasses and transcends “holiness.” So, whatever word you use, ruach, pneuma, geist (German), ruh (Islam), or atman (Hinduism), Chi, remember that we are all trying to describe the Spirit of the divine within creation and within each one of us.
Whatever religion we may or may not belong to, we may be seeking the spiritual divine. But our finite minds and being cannot comprehend the fullness of the infinite. Whether we are Christian or not, we seek and realize that the divine, as Spirit, is within us and all of creation. Therefore, it is necessary to embrace ourselves and the Spirit within us which gives energy, breath, wind, and life.
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