In the world of spirit


I was immersed in the world of “spirit” hanging out for two weeks with folks from the Carolines where other than looking at the Southern Cross and the North Star, navigators from the islands honed their skills mastering sails, air and wind currents, and the flow of the ocean, which have their own characteristic spirit in the Rafalawasch (people of the islands) way of knowing.

Elaborate religious rites use to accompany voyages just so the “right” spirit is friendly rather than adversarial. This was before the Padres brought their European discernment and used Zoroaster’s split between body and spirit, elevated the latter to the eternity of the heavens, and the physical one denigrated to the finitude of earthly existence.

This was not always the case. The dichotomy was not between body and spirit, rather, between friendly and unfriendly spirits. Thus, the elaborate rites and rituals, with their corresponding knowledge held close to the chest by the island chiefs and head honchos, the passing on of the knowledge itself from an elder to the young is held with exquisite delicateness shrouded with mystery, chant and rite.

For a century, sailors took to the ocean highway between Satawal and Nippon’s Bonin Islands and named the islands of the Marianas according to observation and experience as sailors sailed by, stopped, or drifted from the devastating debacle of a storm. In any case, the ocean current, the winds and the sails, captured Mother Nature’s power and beauty, with much intensity and grace.

In a previous existence, I was with a group that dissipated mid-’80s, but with much gusto when we gathered, we sang of the profundity of human existence, dubbing that lifestyle as living in the world of spirit. To the tune of the song If I were a rich man, popular at the time from the “Fiddler on the Roof” play/movie, we sang:

In the world of spirit, radically contingent, trustful expectation, intense shock
Life’s impacted by the mystery, and it’s all a cloud of awe!

In the world of spirit, revelation of enigma, wheel of fortune, no excuse
One essential task, create the world, sudden reeling, mystery’s won the day.

Oneness of all creation, wholly engulfed in marching with all of history,
Binding the wounds of time, everything’s worthwhile.

The other world you see through all and move mountains,
and there’s none to show the way, All in love with life and all poured out.

In the world of spirit, resurrectional existence, gloriously condemned to waltz.
Rapture walks with woe, struck dumb by bliss, playing in a symphony.

In the world of spirit, irresistibly impelled, and simply all a-­tingle now
Running on an endless marathon, sudden reeling, mystery’s won the day.

(Repeat 2nd and 3rd verses through “all a­ tingle now”)

Running on an endless marathon, suddenly deciding I’m the one
Running on an endless marathon, Mystery has won the day.

The coda indicates the drift of the poetry, sang with intensity and strength (li hai, the Chinese would say), like making love with the spouse on the 20th year anniversary. Heady stuff, but it redounds to the “endless marathon” one runs in life with the mystery of life winning the day.

Sailing has since been reduced from the dependency on clear skies to the strength of the battery that runs the GPS. Engine powered boats replaced the security of sails under the stars. Aye, there’s the rub!

With ease, less expense, and faster speed, the airport has become more convenient than the pier and the wharf to traverse from one place to another. The subtlety of ancient wisdom and its accompanying cultural ways has been taken over by the utilitarianism of modern times, with an eye more on expenditure, translated into monetary cost rather than effort, of the dynamic engagement of a wayfarer to the means of transport that accommodates the two-bag passenger.

In 2016, the world of spirit is no longer the “hocus-pocus” executed by the hierarchical structures of bygone days, whether at the altar of Holy Mother Mary, or the incantation at the Utt and the men’s houses of serious and suntanned sailors. The world of spirit is at the core of mundane and ordinary existence, seen in the wonder of a breadfruit dropping from its tree, ripened by the sun or pushed over by the pecking of a bird, or the blooming of the plumeria in one’s yard, or, yet still, in the cry of a young tot when the popsicle drops off the wooden stick to the ground.

The world of spirit is living life itself, not at the periphery of existence, or longing that something may be added to it, the plus factor that we all aspire for, but plumbing the abyss at its core knowing that the gift of life is the most valuable entity on earth we cannot afford to throw away.

“This is the day we have,” my students started their day. “We can live this day, or throw it away. This is the day we have.”

Let it be, crooned the Beatles, and we followed suit for a long while. We live in paradise isle with all its spirits. We decide that; we choose who we are and will be!

Jaime R. Vergara | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES in the CNMI. A peripatetic pedagogue, he last taught in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at

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