Tuning in to the Unseen

person in cloud

As we move through our podcast series on spiritual abuse, one thing is clear: these are deep waters. The battle for the human heart is infused with realities and dynamics that are beyond what we can see and hear and touch. Here, Trapper Lukaart, Externship Supervisor and a member of our Teaching Staff, reflects on how intimately the spiritual realm is woven into our day-to-day life, and on our choice between engaging that which is unseen or trying to write it off.

Despite little agreement about what constitutes the soul, the vast majority of earth’s inhabitants, regardless of demographic, believe they have one. A broad survey from 2008 indicated that 96% of Americans held this belief. For the sake of this piece I’m going to fill in the other 4% and say that every human being that has walked the earth, been formed in a womb or conceived in a temperature-controlled medical basin, has a soul. I can’t describe my soul to you, it has no discernible physical properties, there is no tangible evidence to its existence, but none of this deters the matter-of-fact belief in its being that couldn’t be pried out of my hands with the jaws of life. Despite, or maybe because of its mysteriousness, it testifies to the duality of being human. We are finite and we are eternal. This duality is not meant to be understood sequentially but concurrently—we are both, now. We’ve been purposefully created to be amphibious, with the constitution and capability of interacting with the physical world and the spiritual world in this life.

Another way of putting it is to say that we have dual citizenship—we are citizens of the world in which we breathe, laugh, bleed, and die, and we are citizens of another (mostly) unseen world that is and is to come. It is a narrow understanding of Philippians 3:20 that suggests the dual part of our citizenship somehow kicks in upon entry through the pearly gates—it is as true now as it will be then. The physical and spiritual exist not side by side and not separated by time, but braided together.

The more I am taught to pay attention, the more I am convinced that the membrane separating these two worlds is much thinner and more porous than we are typically comfortable with. The spiritual realm is not an abstraction or metaphor, it is an actuality that we have access to—and it certainly has access to us.

How seriously do you take those moments when fingers from the unseen world poke through to this physical space? You know, the kind of moments that make you sound crazy when you attempt to describe them? Sometimes a brush with the Divine, sometimes a dark threat by wicked spirits, sometimes the drama of both doing battle to either liberate or consume the human heart.

The physical and spiritual exist not side by side and not separated by time, but braided together.

I believe in science and proof and verifiability, but I also believe that the scientific method is insufficient. Proof comes in forms that cannot be objectively measured or repeated. So often when we encounter something other-worldly, there comes a moment in which we have the option to classify it for what it is, and in doing so to grapple with the reluctance of further committing to a more expansive and unnerving worldview. That option came to me in the following experience, and I was faced with the choice between calling it a collective olfactory hallucination or a gift and directive from the Spirit of God.

A client whom I have walked with through several seasons is currently doing remarkable work in reclaiming a greater sense of ownership of her body. Profound past relational and sexual trauma had fostered a distance and occasional disdain for her own body as an adult. Without sharing anything of her story I’ll simply say that it is high stakes, high risk for her to be fully and sensually engaged in her own skin. As I listened in amazement at her description of the cost and joy of being more embodied, I found myself increasingly distracted by the distinct scent of roses permeating the room. Not wanting to disrupt the conversation I created a list of possibilities and systematically crossed them off: she doesn’t wear perfume, there isn’t a living flower (let alone a rose) within 40 feet of my office, no diffuser in the suite, and so on. After several minutes I found nothing remotely close to explaining the fragrance. By now a whisper had joined the inexplicable sensory abnormality with two words: “Say it.” I declined for several minutes until I was simply unable to concentrate, and blurted out some preface about how strange and out of place this question was before asking if she too smelled roses. She concurred that it was in fact weird, then went on to say, “No…but it is my favorite flower. I often stop to look at flowers in bloom, but a rose is the only one I will stop to smell.” As we allowed for the fragrant intrusion to intersect with story and then for both to intersect with what it means for my client to be sensually engaged with the world around her, she too began to smell roses. We lingered for several moments with reverence and tears and laughter, smelling something that wasn’t there—or very much was there, just in different form—before continuing the good labor ahead of us.

This was a poignant and remarkable moment for both of us. However, I believe the more we attune to the duality of the world we live in, as well as the duality that is written into our makeup, it would not be an uncommon kind of moment. Jesus speaks, the Spirit is moving and tending constantly, and Evil is ever busy trying to create distortion, discord, and destruction. The spiritual realm is bustling and brilliant and is one of two primary fronts where a cosmic turf war rages, a war in which humanity is the prize.

It seems highly unlikely that the permeability between the physical and spiritual worlds is an accident or mistake—God didn’t just forget to close a window. It is then good for us to claim and cultivate our ability to engage within the spiritual realm with the kind of sensitivity and authority granted to us. Whether called to embrace or do battle, both are quite difficult if one hand remains tied behind our back.