by Paul Gregory Alms
I heard it again yesterday. Someone told me they were spiritual but not religious. I am not sure what that means but we seem to live in a time where religion is expected to be other worldly and non-physical. Spiritual practices and beliefs are less and less tethered to the created world of our physical life. Vague “spiritual” notions form the core beliefs of many. Concrete expressions of religion involving our bodies or created things (for example: worship attendance, traditional moral codes of sexual behavior) are on the decline.
Christianity could not be more different. It is unique in its devotion and almost obsession with the created world, the material stuff that God created. From the beginning in Genesis where God personally creates everything from the sun and stars to creepy crawling things to man and woman, Christianity is wrapped up in substance, in things that can be touched. Follow God around in the Old Testament and you will encounter His presence in burning bushes, clouds and fire, wooden boxes, tabernacle and temple. The God of the Old Testament is not some other worldly or mystical being; He speaks through flesh-and-blood prophets and gives sacrifices and rituals that mark His presence and mercy.
The New Testament also displays the same concern with physicality. Here the God of all power takes flesh in the womb of a woman and is born. The transcendent God has hair and bones and hands. He eats and walks and cries. He bleeds and dies. This disgraceful crucifixion is portrayed as His ultimate manifestation and triumph and the redemption of all creation. And His followers? They are told to eat His flesh and drink His blood. They are forgiven and cleansed with real water. The shape of the Christian life is similarly concrete and bodily. A man is to cling to his wife in lifelong faithfulness. Children are to be reared in the fear of the Lord. Charity is to be practiced in concrete ways such as feeding the hungry and visiting orphans and widows. Paul can summarize the entire Christian life of good works as sacrificing one’s body in holy living.
In the face of an increasingly vacant religiosity that surrounds the church, Christians do well to plunge themselves into the tangible, solid spirituality of the Bible and offer those same riches to our neighbors. We were created for just such a real divine presence and our help truly is in name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.