Saturday, January 22, 2011

"What is spiritual is local"

Tim Vivian begins his introduction to the life of Saint George of Choziba in his book Journeying Into God: Seven Early Monastic Lives, by pointing out succinctly that "[w]hat is spiritual is local." Very often, perhaps most of the time, when we think about spirituality it is "all soul and no body." When we consider spirituality as disembodied, Vivian continues, "what is spiritual drifts without hometown or date of birth" becoming "homogeneous and homogenized."

The great French literary theorist Roland Barthes asked, "Isn't storytelling always a way of searching for one's origins...?" His question, of course, is rhetorical with the answer being "Yes." When I come to know that "my origins are certain in God," observes Eugene Peterson in his Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, I can easily discern by way of implication "that my future is also certain in him." Discerning this is what allows "me to live by faith in the present" moment.


Jesus' genealogy is interesting whether you turn to Matthew or Luke because it is not what we would call, looking at the story of the people of Israel, pure. To give just one example, Ruth, who was a Moabitess, that is, not of the chosen people, but who, through her marriage to Boaz, with whom she bore Obed, who was the father Jesse, who, in turn, fathered David, is one the Messiah's fore bearers. Of course, there are some less than exemplary figures, at least in moral terms, who also appear in Jesus' lineage, like Rahab the harlot (Matt. 1:5).

The implications for this are huge for all of us because, by virtue of our baptism, we are brought into the Messianic family, into the household of God. Our adoption, as it were, is not dependent on our worthiness, on our moral rectitude at any given moment (i.e., sometimes we're in and sometimes we're out). "If, via the story," Peterson continues, "I can experience what it means to be taken seriously, and, via the genealogy, can find that my life is part of the story of salvation, I can live with confidence." I can live with confidence because my hope is in the Lord who made heaven and earth and my life is part of the unfolding story of God's creation, of salvation history, what Von Balthasar called Theo-drama.

Let's not forget that any authentically Christian spirituality has as its center gathering together around the Lord's table, which is why, at least for Christians, being religious is a necessary (though not sufficient of itself- which is why going to church alone does not make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car) part of being spiritual.

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