It was my first night of what was to be a several day stay as the guest of this plucky, semi-retired psychic I had just met through a mutual friend. “I’m good friends with both Jesus and Buddha, but shh, don’t tell them—they don’t speak to each other.” The tiny, bright-eyed woman pronounced this last bit with a cheeky grin. I laughed, then cringed, then thought about how I reacted. I was torn between wondering if my Christianity was being bruised or complimented. Perhaps it was neither. Perhaps it was both. Perhaps it didn’t matter.
Several hours in and already I felt at home in her earthy cottage. She spoke of delicious food and good friends and enjoyable novels and planetary alignment and saving spiders. She was an enchanting presence to be around and made life look good.
For me, part of her appeal was her openness to the experience of others. When she listened, she really listened. When I spoke, she affirmed. A conversation with her felt like a confession of sorts. She exuded an air of reception to the world around her. She didn’t attempt to dominate her environment; rather, she comfortably lived in the flow of circumstance, respecting the lives and experiences of those (human and non-human) around her.
She held an alluring trait: a willingness to engage in the world as a receptive and active participant, not as a dominator or mere spectator. She lived according to the idea that people can be very much at home in the world: that our humanness, though broken, is good, and not in need of total transcendence.
The Physical and the Spiritual
In contrast, at a church group the other day someone suggested that our physicality is a hindrance to our spirituality. In speaking of what life might look like after death, someone suggested the impossibility of retaining any form of our human bodies because they are, after all, a major source of our corruption. It’s a common enough perspective, and one that is not new in any sense of the word. The early church dealt with rebutting this idea more than any other belief. But like all heresy, it has times when it seeps back into the church. In fact, recently I heard a message from the pulpit that referenced our bodies as “sin bags.”
Thomas Merton wouldn’t like the term “sin bags.” His statement about sainthood in Seasons of Celebration, said this:
To be a saint means to pass through the world gathering fruits for heaven from every tree and reaping God’s glory in every field. The saint is one who is in contact with God in every possible way, in every possible direction. He is united to God in the depths of his own being. He sees and touches God in everything and everyone around him. Everywhere he goes, the world rings and resounds (though silently) with the deep pure harmonies of God’s glory.
Elsewhere in the book he reminds that the goal of the Christian life is not to escape a type of bodily imprisonment that the spirit must endure while living in a body, but rather that our development is the continuous growth toward “unification of our whole being, body and soul, in His service.”
George MacDonald, perhaps most frequently referenced as mentor to C. S. Lewis, says it like this:
Not only then has each man his individual relation to God, but each man has his peculiar relation to God. He is to God a peculiar being, made after his own fashion. . . . Hence he can worship God as no man else can worship Him,—can understand God as no man else can understand him. This or that man may understand God more, may understand God better than he, but no other man can understand God as he understands Him. . . . As the fir-tree lifts up itself with a far different need from the need of the palm-tree, so does each man stand before God, and lift up a different humanity to the common Father. And for each God has a different response.
This perspective encourages me to refuse to separate our human experience from our spiritual experience. Jean Vanier, influential humanitarian, philosopher, and theologian, states, “I find that we cannot grow spiritually if we ignore our humanness, just as we cannot become fully human if we ignore spirituality.”
When I reflect on my days at the psychic’s cabin, the evenings of wine and laughter and feeling enlivened by each others presence, I realize that I learned a lot during those few days. I learned cooking with wine makes most food taste better, I learned how strengthening it is to be in the presence of one who listens, and I learned that enthusiasm for life—on this earth—can be infectious, and what’s more, it’s godly.
Cover image by Jose Antonio Gallego Vázquez.