April 14th, 2011
|10:50 pm - Knowing God in the Flesh (Lenten post #5)|
“But we know God, primarily, in Christ, that is through God becoming a human being, and so we cannot know God in a purely spiritual, unbodied way - and this shouldn't be surprising. We can't actually unbody ourselves, we're not ghosts in a machine, our bodies as well as our souls are who we are. So it's fitting that God, in his love, reveals himself to us in a way that our bodies are part of. Which is why God gives himself to us in the sacraments, which need a physical element (which is more than just an outward sign).” --tree_and_leaf
I've thought a good deal about the spirit and the body, this divide we often talk about or perceive, and concluded that our identity is a unity of both, not simply one or the other. I've written journal entries about how the Christian church thinks about this, and how the Western post-modern culture around me (the Hollywood culture in particular) thinks about it. There are many views on what we really are, and our relationship to matter: materialism, spiritualism, gnosticism, Christianity. . . .
Christianity, it seems, has put an emphasis on the spiritual over the physical. Many of you have attended or heard stories about churches where drinking and dancing were not allowed, where fasting was considered more holy than indulging in one's blessings, or where the ability to sit in meditation and prayer for hours at a time, removed from the world, was a mark of spiritual maturity.
As a teenager, I studied books on prayer and “knowing God.” I questioned every adult or experienced Christian who would listen to me in an attempt to discovering how one can get closer to God. Most answers distilled into: pray more, read the Bible more, serve others more. Others pointed me to spiritual disciplines such as fasting, or specific types of prayer.
None of it seemed entirely reliable. But then, when talking about a relationship between Creator and creature, that might be expected. I persevered in what I could discover, and found that God was there to be sought.
Then, this past weekend, I had a bit of an epiphany.
A friend of mine, whom I correspond with online, wrote the words I put at the beginning in a comment to my last Lenten post. One piece stood out in breathtaking relief:
we cannot know God in a purely spiritual, unbodied way
I wish so much that someone had said that, in exactly those words, to my teenage self.
Of course, I would have immediately asked the question I am about to ask here, and perhaps not found answers right away. However, it would still have cast an entirely different light on my search to know God.
Instead of thinking of the physical world as something to be destroyed and replaced by God's new creation (a thought which upset me deeply), I might have settled more firmly on how much He loves the world, past and present and future. Instead of thinking of our bodies and our interaction with the world as irrevocably tainted by sin, at least until the coming of Christ in power, I might have sought out more ways to honor those connections as deeply holy. Instead of trying to quiet all physical noise, I might have tried to turn it into a metaphorical choir of praise.
I have tried those things, occasionally and piecemeal. Writing it out, understanding what I'm trying to do and why--that's very new. (And I find I am trembling. I'm afraid that this realization won't lead anywhere, and yet at the same time so excited that this entire dimension of life is more real and true and valuable than I have dared to think.)
So if seeking to know God requires not only our spirits but also our bodies, how does that work?
God reached down to us in physical form. He lived as a fellow human being to show us love in the ways we could best understand it. And I know not everyone thinks about what that was like, but it's always captivated me. Jesus was human. He had nightmares, got exhausted when he used up his physical energy, got hungry and thirsty, enjoyed food and drink (including wine), loved being with people. He touched people no one else would touch. He got angry and wasn't afraid to speak true words violently; he wept at a friend's death just like everyone else.
We have the sacraments. Even if you don't believe that the Real Presence of Christ is in the bread and wine of Communion, it's still a physical connection between ourselves and God. An opportunity not just to be reminded of the Incarnation, but to re-enact it and to re-enact our acceptance of His love in it. Or even small things, such as crossing oneself, or actually kneeling to pray (or lifting your hands, or singing).
Other sacraments, from baptism to marriage to anointing of the sick, also incorporate the spiritual and physical aspects of our being, through immersion in water, laying on of hands, or anointing with oil.
The most obvious—and sometimes the least obvious—is that we can experience God through our fellow human beings. When someone gives us an unexpected hug, or a gift, or makes us laugh, or think, or does anything to show us love . . . that is in some sense God, reaching through them to us. And he reaches through us to others, as well.
(I know this is a tough one, though, because we are also most hurt by our fellow humans.)
Nature is another way through which we can find and experience God. The visual brilliance of a clear night sky, stars burning into the depths of space; the smooth slip of a leaf between my fingers; the varied trills of the bird outside my window; the heady scent of star jasmine in the yard next door. Every deep engagement of our bodily senses can open us up to joy, to love, to peace, to hope.
Art combines (when it is well done) humanity and nature: the world given new shapes and meanings by the hearts and hands of human beings. God in art? Oh, yes. Even in art made by artists who don't believe that there is any such Being.
I'm not saying that we can experience God through the entire physical world-- although, you know, maybe that's actually true.
I want to ask you a question. In honor of my last actual Lenten post for this year, and because this concept is so new to me, I wonder:
Have you sought God through and in the physical world? How? What was it like?
What other ways might there be to seek God, to worship and discover him through our physical bodies?
Go nuts, get creative; I'm intrigued to see what you come up with. Dance? Communal meals? Indulgence (instead of or after a fast)? Sign language? Sex? (Someone just told me about a couple's devotional based on the Song of Songs, which has both a study/prayer portion, and an . . . experiential portion. I find I like that idea a lot.)
May you be blessed this week with an experience of the love of God which involves your body and your senses as well as you spirit.
Current Mood: contemplative
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
This is the verse that immediately popped into mind when talking about experiencing God in the physical world.
Recall also, that after each piece of creation, God said, "and it was good."
I have also often thought about how we, too, are triune beings: physical, intellectual/mental, and emotional/spiritual. We are each of these things, all at the same time. God made us each of these things, all at the same time.
You've read my thoughts, I'm sure, on dancing, yeah? Allow me to quote myself from this post
to dance. I always have. Square dancing and reels were favorites when I was a child. I took ballroom dance in college, and a favorite past time with my friends and me was turning on the tunes and singing and dancing in the dorm. Geo and I took ballroom before our wedding. I took belly dancing last February.
I love the movement of body to rhythm. For me, it’s more than fun; it's like a celebration—a thanksgiving, if you will—of the physical body in which our souls reside. It’s a way to just let yourself be inside your body, and the best part is when you’re able to move past the self-conscious stage to the pure movement and release and celebration and fun.
When people discover how much I love to dance, they’re often surprised. I find this rather amusing. Apparently, they see me as a very straight-laced individual (not so surprising), so when people see me dance, and particularly note how much hip I tend to incorporate in my dancing, they’re . . . taken aback. I’ve even had people ask me if I am or used to be a dancer. About the most dance I took growing up was 6 – 8 weeks of ballet when I was in 3rd grade.
I don’t dance nearly as much as I should . . . "
The skies in our area and the spring foliage are pretty amazing, and often as I'm driving to work, my thought is a simple prayer, "God, that's beautiful! Thank you."
Taste and food can also elicit such a reaction from me.
God created and gave us our senses, and said that it was good.
I am intrigued by the Song of Songs devotional you mention. More information, please?Edited at 2011-04-15 11:56 am (UTC)
:) Yes to all of that, thank you!
I am intrigued by the Song of Songs devotional you mention. More information, please?
I'm actually waiting on more info myself--the person who told me couldn't recall the author's name or the title, so he's looking into it. If I find out, I'll let you know!
I think of the first chapter of Genesis, when God creates the universe. Day and night? "Good." Sky and sea? "Good." Land and water? "Good." Plants, animals, people? Each is "good." All of it together: "Very good." A good God of a good universe...
Everything physical is tainted by the fall, and so is everything spiritual outside of Heaven. And there is still so much good and beauty remaining in both, the value and the glory are still ringing through them. That's what blows my mind. Some days it's so easy to see the degeneration in human society, and I have to remind myself that the beauty is still there too. It's a very tough, very persistent beauty, not easily destroyed! If you pick up on it, if you nurture it, it just explodes.
Our faith is a faith not only of reason and knowledge and spirit, but also of sight and sound, blood and bone, the raw and physical earth. Which is why it's so awesome, really.
Everything physical is tainted by the fall, and so is everything spiritual outside of Heaven. And there is still so much good and beauty remaining in both, the value and the glory are still ringing through them.
The hard thing for me is being able to hold both of those ideas at once. If something is tainted, then the remedy (suggests a lot of my upbringing) is to reject it completely. Which is BS, of course, because then you reject all the good and beautiful with it. But it's very hard. Which is, I think, why God is making such a point of telling me how wonderful I am, and not telling me much else. :)
Our faith is a faith not only of reason and knowledge and spirit, but also of sight and sound, blood and bone, the raw and physical earth.
Yes, yes, this!
What other ways might there be to seek God, to worship and discover him through our physical bodies?
This is probably not exactly what you're talking about, but it's what's been coming to me lately.
"Whatsoever you do, do it as unto the Lord." (Probably not an exact quote, I didn't look it up.)
I've recently begun contemplating the idea that everything I do is--or should be--a form of worship. That my time, my energy, my abilities are a gift from God, and when I use them, I am glorifying Him in some small way. Yes, even if I am scrubbing toilets. :) So far it hasn't kindled in me any great enthusiasm for these tasks, but I'm hopeful that if I maintain the attitude, it will come.
Now that I have an actual job (\o/), I'm trying to apply that view there as well. I haven't figured out yet what specific "Christian" thing I'm supposed to accomplish here on Earth; I don't feel called to be a missionary in Africa, I can't sing, I'm not a minister or a minister's wife, etc. etc. So if what I am given to do is file papers and create spreadsheets and record paperwork, then I will do that as if God himself had given me the responsibility, to the best of my ability and dedication. I don't think He is served by sloppy work or work done with poor attitudes, no matter what type of work it is.
In other areas, I'm with...is it Lewis, or Tolkien? Both, possibly. I believe that, if we are created in God's image, and He enjoys creation, then we do as well. When we write, or draw/paint, or sculpt, or knit/crochet/weave, or any of those creative things at all, then we are worshiping God in that way--by contributing, in a tiny way, to his overall creation. Ha, even Michelangelo was only producing fan-art, when you look at it that way! :D
I think you're bang on target with all of this. Anything we do can be an act of worship, even scrubbing toilets, because we are using our abilities and interacting with His creation.
Have you ever read The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence? It's couple of centuries old, a short collection of writings by a monk who decided to in fact treat everything as worship, and to seek the presence of God in all times and places. I think you might find it enjoyable and useful, where you are right now. (It's not long, and I recall it being quite readable.)
Chiming in later, I've always found nature to be one of the big ways I can appreciate God through the world. For that reason, I have a particular fondness for all the nature-related psalms (19, which was quoted above; 42; several in the mid-nineties, especially 96). Sitting someplace quiet and appreciating creation, whether a stream or some trees or birds or stars in the sky, is one of the best ways I've found (for me) to appreciate God via the physical world.
I'm also in hearty agreement with travels_in_time
's last paragraph. I'm naturally inclined to spend a lot of time in my own head and ascetism fits in with that, but actually following my inclinations that way has only led to frustration and misery, with me trying to follow a lot of rules I put on myself and failing. It's been a long process to realize that pleasure isn't inherently suspect; that just because I enjoy something - even something entirely rooted in the physical world - doesn't mean I should automatically need to give it up. A lot of that struggle came from my own emotional make-up, but the modern church's emphasis on spirituality at the expense of physicality contributed some, too, I think.
In unrelated things, I hope you don't mind if I friend you via my fannish journal. I'm a lot more active over there, which means I'll read your posts when they're a little fresher. :)
Friend away! (Actually, I see you already did, which is good.)
I take nature where I can get it; L.A. is not the world's best city for that, being new and in place quite obnoxiously urban. But we are close to the mountains, the desert, and the ocean, so perhaps I need to try intentionally to get out there more often.
I identify so strongly with your middle paragraph, there. I think I've written bits of it in my private paper journals. So, yes, that's where I'm coming from, and you probably quite get where I'm moving into, as well, depending on how congruent our current journeys are. \o/ God's blessing on you in that!