A dove is often seen as a symbol of Spirit. Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill sets free a dove during his visit to Simferopol, Crimean Peninsula, Ukraine, Friday, July 31, 2009. (AP Photo)
The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
There are many who argue that spirit and religion are one and the same. In an ideal world, that is so. What happens so often however is that religious institutions want to claim authority over spirit which is only controlled by the Creator.
The Sanskrit word for spirit is Jiva and means "the vital principle or animating force within living things". In Hebrew, ruach means "breath" and Greek "pneuma" again is breath. Without breath the vital principle and animating force of a life dies. Because of the importance of breath not just in our living bodies, but also as part of our sacred self, most religions offer breathing meditations to teach the believer how to be in touch with that vital energy within each human being. With all of the world's science and discovery, we know how a human being's lungs work and the function in the body. Life can be restored once breath is lost at times, but only the Creator can breathe the sacred breath that creates a living creature. The word "spirituality" is born from the word "spirit" and like the wind and the breath, we can be aware of spirit but spirit is not an object we can hold in our hands.
Religion means so many different things to many people. Often times it has come to convey a negative connotation due to a misuse and abuse of tenets created to give room for spirit to grow within each person. All religions focus on God (some religions have many gods and this is called 'pluralism' or 'polythesim'), and most religions have a savior, god, leader or figurehead who shows the way for others to come into communion with the larger Creator God. Religions most often have parameters and limitations. While one can study similarities of history and theological thought, each religion believes that there is one path to reach God, Allah, nirvana, heaven. Most religions have dogmas, tenets, rules to follow in order to be considered a holy believer or true believer.
Another definition of religion is more vague "strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny" and is more in line with the understanding of spirit, but what happens so often is that as a religion becomes an "institution" the way of the spirit gives way to the way of dogma, rules and concepts. So often, for an institution to thrive, the rules and dogmas become rigid thereby squashing spirit.
Spirit is the source of all goodness and hope. Spirit is that which, or rather who connects us with the Creator. The concept of spirit as something separate from religion is seen in many writings and teachings regarding spiritual growth. In the Hebrew scriptures, when the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt they wanted to build an idol to worship, a "thing" they could hold a religion they understood. Moses called the people through the power of the spirit to walk into the unknown wilderness of the Middle East when the people had known only slavery. Moses was given a name to call God -YHWH and that name was ambiguous meaning "I am who I am." This was the God who would not be tied down to any one place or thing although God associated with a people. As the faith of the Israelites grew so did the rules and regulations. Originally there were only 10 Commandments (or a better statement would be guidelines for a good life). As the people grew, the rules grew so large and numerous that people could no longer keep up with all the rules of the religion.
Then came Jesus. Jesus was born into Judaism, raised in the temple and new the rules and the regulations of the temple and the holy life of the Jewish people. The spirit moved in Jesus to speak out against the rule makers/enforcers (pharisees and saducees). God was not a "thing" to be contained in the rules, regulations or temple and its rites. God was spirit and spirit is in humanity. Because Jesus continued to speak out through the spirit, most often against his religious upbringing, he was crucified as a traitor.
In Buddhism, there is a saying, "If you meet the Buddha on the road kill him." That statement is Buddhism's way of saying that God cannot be pinned down. God or spirit is a happening God. While the paths of religion can and often do reveal spirit and path to us, they can also become walls to the spirit that block out spiritual growth.