Thursday, April 11, 2013

Embodied Spirituality

Thursday, April 11, 2013  -- Week of 2 Easter
George Augustus Selwyn, Bishop of New Zealand, and of Lichfield, 1878

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office
     (Book of Common Prayer, p. 958)
Psalms    18:1-20 (morning)      //     18:21-50 (evening)
Daniel 2:31-49      
1 John 2:18-29      
Luke 3:1-14

How spiritualized should our religion be?  Many Christians insist that the Church's concern should be with our immortal souls -- are you saved?  Many say that the Church should not be involved in politics or economics or other dirty secular concerns which compromise our focus on things of the Spirit.  If a preacher wants to get in trouble, talk about politics or mention sex from the pulpit.  And restrain from talking about money, except in October during stewardship time. 

One of the fundamental conflicts that confronted the early Church during its first few centuries concerned the reluctance of many Christians to allow their concept of Jesus to include the notion that he could have lived a fully human, material life -- being born from a woman, taking on flesh and blood, truly suffering and actually dying on the cross.  Many people saw the whole journey of life as an imprisonment of the spirit in the decaying flesh.  They believed that human liberation would be freedom from the bondage of the material order through release of our pure, imprisoned spirit.  For them, Jesus was sent from God as a spiritual being and only appeared to take on flesh so he could accomplish our salvation from the flesh.  As a divine being, he couldn't have corrupted himself by truly being trapped in material stuff; he wouldn't have suffered the ignoble business of being born of a woman or experiencing real human pain, and especially not human death.  God is too good and pure for such corruptions.  So the divine, spiritual Jesus only appeared to be a human being for the convenience of teaching us and leading us out of the corruptions of the flesh and the material world.

The letter of 1 John addresses those who believed in this manner and calls them "antichrist."  The classical name for this heresy is Docetism, from the word "dokesis" meaning "appearance" or "semblance."  The Epistles of John and the Gospel of John emphasize that Jesus the "man from heaven" (the Logos) came in the flesh.  Last Sunday we read the story of the risen Jesus appearing to Thomas, inviting Thomas to put his finger into the physical wounds from the crucifixion.  That story may have evolved as a challenge to the Docetic or Gnostic Christians, many of whom emphasized the Gospel of Thomas which offers a more spiritualized version of Jesus and of Christianity.

The Christianity that eventually emerged as orthodoxy is a very earthy, sacramental religion which sees the created order as the vehicle for God's manifestation and as fully enveloped in Jesus' work of salvation.  Politics and money are at the center of the gospel's concern.

So we see Luke's opening his history by setting Jesus' ministry into a very political context, naming the political figures who form the background of Jesus' challenge which inaugurates a new kingdom, a new political and economic reality which corresponds with how God would rule rather than how Caesar or Pilate or Herod or Caiaphas rule.

We see John announcing the coming of the one expected by the prophet Isaiah.  When people ask John, "What then should we do?" he gives them concrete, material, political and economic answers.  Share your clothing and food with those who lack.  Deal honestly in your economic affairs, especially you tax collectors.  Don't abuse your power, especially you soldiers.  Concerns of the flesh are the concerns of the prophets; they are God's concerns and the concerns of God's Messiah.

And our story from Daniel is a very political piece.  The book of Daniel interprets the dream of the Babylonian king.  The five parts of the statue probably symbolize the succession of five empires from Babylon to the time when Daniel was written (between 167 and 164 BCE).  Daniel anticipates a new, independent Jewish state established by God.  The book supports and encourages the Maccabean rebellion that is happening as it is being written.  This is highly charged, contemporary political stuff.

If Christianity is to be true to its roots, our religion must be thoroughly immersed in the material, political, and economic realities of our day as well.  Our faith offers not a spiritualized escape from the corrupted concerns of the material world, but a full embrace of our bodily lives with a call to justice and transformation.  The late William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury declared that "Christianity is the most materialistic of all religions."  Traditional Christianity says that God cares about our material concerns and that God is present in every aspect of creation.  In our tradition, politics, health, and economic justice are supremely spiritual subjects.

So today, I'm praying for the Arkansas Legislature -- that they will do the right thing and extend medical coverage to more of our people who cannot afford it.  And I'm praying for our Congress -- that they will create a more just immigration policy that will open a path to legal residency and citizenship for good people who wish to share the American dream.  That's spiritual stuff.


Audio podcast:  Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week.  Go to:

About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at

Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 9:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Lowell,

Right now I am dealing with a Christian Scientist who denies all of the imperfect creation, our physicality, our pain and suffering, and his own pain and suffering. It is not real to him. I'm so glad I live in the imperfect world, as hard and unfair as it can be. I'm glad that Jesus is with me here and knows intimately what suffering and death is, tastes like, feels like.

Great words for a tough morning,


At 7:36 AM, Blogger Lowell said...


Thanks for your comment. I've got a dear friend who is Christian Scientist too. She takes her intercessory prayer so seriously, with great faith and compassion. She believes deeply in the power of prayer for healing. But she also seems to be understanding when Christian Scientists revert to medical care when deeply ill. I find my biggest conflicts with her are politics and economics. She owns a small business that pays minimum wage and offers no insurance. It's the only way her business can exist, she's convinced. I wonder if that notion is something of a projection of the general unwillingness to look at the reality of pain and suffering.



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