Thursday, September 22, 2011

East Meets West: Chi and the Holy Spirit

By Grace Ji-Sun Kim

What would an Asian theology of the Holy Spirit look like?

If you have ever attended a Tae-Kwon-Do, Tai-Chi or Akido class, you will recognize the word “Chi” or “Ki.” These three art forms of movement try to harness the intangible form of energy called Chi. Practicing them creates not only more energy, but greater health and life within one’s self.

Chi is part of the everyday lives of Asian people just as it is part of their everyday vernacular. People will greet one another and try to gauge each other’s Chi level or compliment each other’s good Chi. They will even express their sickness or low energy as having “low levels of Chi.” Chi is a powerful energy which brings wholeness, health, and vitality. Chi gives life and without it, there is no life.

In many ways, Chi sounds like “ruach” in the Hebrew Scriptures or “pneuma” in the New Testament. Is it possible that the western notion of the Spirit as found in Christianity is the same energy as Chi? This question leads me to explore the possibility of an Asian understanding of Chi which can nurture a stronger theological perspective on the Holy Spirit.

In an increasingly multireligious, multilingual, and multicultural world, recognizing the differences and similarities among people, cultures, and religions is essential. The religions in different parts of the world do not display many spirits; rather in them we find various names for the Spirit.

Spirit is a universal concept which can discover new methods of addressing, thinking about, and conceptualizing God. But the first step will be to reexamine Spirit-Chi. Spirit-Chi is found within everyone. It is a source of empowerment and healing for the wounded.

Still, Spirit-Chi is beyond mystery and conceptualization. It requires us to admit to the limitations of the human understanding. We will never be able fully to comprehend the Divine. But Spirit-Chi provides us with new language and tools to address the mysterious encounters with the Holy we have experienced in the past and continue to experience. Within this hybrid space, our understanding of Spirit-Chi can draw us closer to God. It helps us develop a deeper understanding of the Creator of all that is, was, or ever will be.

Spirit-Chi is also beyond culture, religion, and society, as it undergirds the ethos of people around the globe. When people recognize this, instead of being a barrier, Spirit-Chi will open doors for further dialogue, understanding, and acceptance. The more language we can use to talk about the Divine, the more we open our discourse and work toward accepting, welcoming, and embracing those who are different, subjugated, and Othered. So it is important to understand God as Spirit-Chi and thereby break down barriers that colonialism has established. This Spirit-Chi is within us, empowering us toward emancipation and liberation.

As we recognize the commonality among people, it will be easier to embrace and accept the Other. The Spirit that is in all things will help us step closer to welcoming and embracing one another. Spirit-Chi embraces life and makes it whole. So it is essential that humanity recognizes, welcomes, and affirms the Spirit in all faiths.

A compelling aspect of Spirit-Chi is the way it is emancipatory: it frees us from the bonds of evil that prevent us from celebrating life. It makes us stronger and builds bridges between us and our neighbors. Spirit-Chi is salvific within us and between us and Others. It is a Spirit that bonds and pulls humanity closer to all other living creatures. It will sustain us and keep us aware of our interconnectedness and interreliance.

In this broken postcolonial world, this means western Christianity can no longer monopolize the Spirit. God’s Spirit-Chi fills us up, makes us whole, and helps build harmony and peace. It transcends problems endemic to the postcolonial world and liberates those caught in the middle. The Spirit is free to roam and be what it will be.

My new book, The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology, works toward a global and intercultural pneumatology that will encourage people to live harmoniously and peacefully with one another in a postcolonial world. The next time you are in a Tae-Kwon-Do class or watching the graceful movements of Tai-Chi, be mindful of the one Spirit, which is within us all and gives us life, fully.

*Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim is Associate Professor of Doctrinal Theology and the Director of the MATS program at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She is the author of The Grace of Sophia (Pilgrim Press).

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