Monday, May 14, 2007


Most of us are in the habit of thinking of the world we live in as comprised of matter and spirit. We may not, however, give much thought to how these two aspects of God’s created order interact. We tend to think of matter as operating on one plane, and spirit as operating on another. In fact, to pick my own people, the evangelical protestant tradition of Christianity, we tend to want to fall into the Gnostic heresy with ease. We view matter as evil, and spirit as good. I would like to deal with that whole issue in other posts. What I want to look at here is how matter and spirit interact and even intersect.

Intersect is really the right word. This, I think, is perhaps what makes humanity unique in the created order and what gives us preeminence. It is in us, humanity, that physical matter and spiritual essence are uniquely connected. We are both body and spirit. When the two are separated, we are no longer alive nor fully human. Consider this quote from Wendell Barry’s essay Christianity and the Survival of Creation. He comments on Genesis 2:7 thusly:

My mind like most peoples, has been deeply influence by dualism, and I can see how dualistic minds deal with this verse. They conclude that the formula for man making is man = body + soul. But that conclusion cannot be derived, except by violence, from Gen 2:7, which is not dualistic. The formula given in Gen 2:7 is not man = body + soul; the formula there is soul = dust + breath…The dust, formed as a man and made to live, did not embody a soul. It became a soul.

The implications of this understanding are enormous and profound. As Barry goes on to explain, the very dust that we are made of is an expression of God’s spirit. As created by the Living God, our bodies are not dirty, sinful or unholy in any way. If this is true, then so many things that seemed forbidden become gifts of God.

How else could the incarnation be possible?

How else could the Church actually be the Body of Christ? Do we think this is just a metaphor? If it were, why would Jesus have asked Saul why he was persecuting Him (rather than saying “why are you persecuting my people.)?

If this is so, then suddenly grace can be given to us through mundane material objects like the water of baptism and the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Now the sacraments become a work of Christ, a gift to us. How then can the regular and common acceptance of these gifts become "commonplace" or "mean less?"

Why else would God then make it clear that He plans to remake Heaven and Earth? He will simply fix whatever has gone wrong with the physical world he made. But he will not annihilate it completely. We are made to inhabit a world of matter with both our bodies and our spirits joined together forever. We will not be disembodied sprit beings hovering in the heavens.

I grew up in a milieu that liked to imagine that if we could only peel off this mortal coil and live in the spirit, we would be holy. Not so, I think. We are called to holiness now and in this life and in this body. And Christ has given us the means to do so.

Somewhat to my surprise, I am becoming a sacramentalist.

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