Monday, August 8, 2011

Following Jesus Christ requires feet

Generally spirituality is defined as the quality of being spiritual, or as something that is incorporeal or immaterial in nature.

By contrast, an authentically Christian spirituality is not disembodied, but embodied, that is, it is incarnational. Incarnational means nothing other than Christian spirituality necessarily involves our bodies. It is not a matter of trying to escape our spatio-temporality. After all, when God finished creating the material universe, of which the crowning achievement was man and woman, who together constituted the divine image, "God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good" (Gen. 1:31a). The liturgical memorial of St. Dominic, who spent much of his life delivering people from the Albigensian heresy by solid preaching of the Christian faith, seems a good time to note this fact.

Crucifixion, by Michelangelo in the British Museum

We have a great thirst that arises from our human orientation towards the transcendent. This is why so many people, many of whom describe themselves as "spiritual, but not religious," practice various forms of spirituality. Hans Urs Von Balthasar, one of the greatest Catholic theologians of the last century, in an interview he gave towards the end of his life, observed that while Eastern forms of meditation, which remain popular, are useful for attaining interior silence precisely because they are objectless (the old Zen saying that if you encounter the Buddha in your meditation you must kill him, they) do not help us to attain Jesus Christ, “who is the living God” (Test Everything 27). Balthasar concluded his brief reflection on these matters by saying "contemplation of the East (achieved by abstraction from the worldly-objective) is a far cry from the Christian 'objectless' contemplation of the living God, who is triune love and who revealed himself in the humanity of Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit, in which case, in a Christian sense, no abstraction is possible" (27-28).

This is terribly theological, I know, but I think reflections like this on spirituality are not only useful, but necessary once in awhile, especially because Christian spirituality is an embodied spirituality. So, it must engage our intellect. For all of us who minister, that is, serve in the Church, we need just the kind of knowledge to minister on behalf in Jesus Christ, which is only made possible by the Holy Spirit.

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