At various places in this blog I have talked about spirit and matter but not really defined these words in any way. I actually rather like not defining them as a definition limits them in a way that leaving their interpretation open to the imagination does not. For we all understand, or should do, what spirit and matter are even if we cannot plumb the depths of what they are. We sense that each describes a very different aspect of life. That, roughly speaking, spirit is life and matter the garb spirit takes to express itself. An intellectual analysis can certainly elucidate that basic idea to a degree but it can also unnecessarily complicate it, and, worse, lock one up in theory which is self-defeating since mind, a material thing insofar as thought is expressed in form, can never comprehend spirit which is intuited or known directly. The annals of philosophy are full of highly intelligent people picking over the bones of a corpse. But still we are intellectual beings so one should make some attempt to expand on a basic definition while stressing that words can obscure the truth as much as they can help to uncover it.
I am regarding spirit as the essence of life and matter as the substance through which that essence manifests itself. The inner and outer components of being. But while the modern world accepts matter as the stuff of which we are made (though it's getting harder and harder to know exactly what that is), it denies spirit, regarding it, if existing at all, as arising from material forces. This is the basis of materialism, that matter comes before consciousness which is secondary. Naturally I disagree with that. Of course, I do. It's wrong! So, what is spirit?
One way to think of spirit is as the energy of pure being which animates otherwise inert matter thus enabling the one to become many, and the whole universe of becoming, change, time, space and so on to appear. But the word “energy” can mislead for spirit is not some impersonal force like a cosmic gas spread throughout the universe, and I doubt could have been conceived of as such before the rise of materialistic science which effectively transposed its concepts onto the spiritual plane. Spirit is fully and gloriously personal, though it may have a non-personal aspect. For it is life and life is consciousness and consciousness requires one who is conscious. I AM implies an I. And an I implies a Mind.
So spirit and matter are the basic duality of creation. They are expressed as life and form, subject and object, God and Nature and so on. This doesn't mean there is an irresolvable duality at the heart of existence for ultimately these two are one. Whether you regard things theistically or not the position is the same. Either matter is an aspect of spirit projected out as the vehicle for its manifestation or God creates matter from nothing as the fundamental stuff from which he then forms everything else. Whichever way you look at it, matter either comes from spirit or is a part of it. But it is different to it as that which receives is different to that which gives. It is its complementary opposite in manifestation which is necessarily dualistic or nothing could be at all. Perfect oneness would be little different to perfect noneness.
Spirit and matter are the two poles of existence required for existence to be known. Matter is the mirror in which God is enabled to see his face and, as creation, it becomes his bride. Spirit is what gives life to matter, and the two combine to bring about all that is with spirit working through matter, which includes time and space, to carry life onwards to unimaginable glories of ever greater truth and beauty, making the one many and the many more and more perfect individualised manifestations of the one. Without spirit, matter is dead. Without matter, spirit remains in darkness and alone, unable to see its face or express itself. They are two but they are also one and through their interaction the universe is born.
That is on the macrocosmic level. On the microcosmic level our task to render the material portion of our being ever more receptive to the spiritual which we do through the purification of mind and body, and the turning of our consciousness both inwards and upwards, not quite the same thing and both necessary. We have to transfer our attention from the phenomenal world and its contents to the spiritual one, and the priorities of the latter must become ours. It is a mistake to give too much attention to matter. It is, after all, not meant to be the primary partner in the relationship. But it is also a mistake to reject or ignore or downgrade it in any way since life is a relationship to which both partners contribute just as both do to a dance. The expression of life in matter is the expression of love.
Spirit is the light and life of creation and matter its substance and foundation. From their union comes soul which gives being its quality.