The Gift of Gravity
It flies in the face of conventional spirituality, but Jesus invited us to look down, not up. Not up, to the heavens. Not beyond, to a distant God. But down, to the earth beneath our feet, and into the faces of our neighbours. There we would find the kingdom of God, which is very close, indeed.
From its earliest days, the church felt queasy about the earthly realm, especially about our bodies, with their tendency to go off in unseemly directions. In the epistles, it is Paul who voices this discomfort most vociferously. But surely, he protesteth too much. Women are inferior? Being single is better than marrying? The body must be beaten into submission? Yet, all the while, he complained, God was refusing to remove the "thorn" from his own flesh. Just what was Paul's problem, anyway?
We have been too much influenced by Paul's Body Dysmorphic Disorder, his neurotic discomfort with his own body. Perhaps too much influenced, as well, by John's mystic imagination. Their gaze, up and away from our earthiness, betrayed Jesus's essential teaching, that God's realm was discernible in the midst of our messy humanity.
Even as the church was bound for Glory Land, it couldn't help but acknowledge the human need for sensate stimulation along the way. So, while priests were shackled to their vows of celibacy, stained glass portrayed gloriously sensuous depictions of biblical scenes. While hair shirts mortified the flesh, flickering candles, rising incense, and fragrant oils excited the senses. Our loftiest aspirations, to escape this mortal coil, could not in the end ignore our humanity, whose roots (humus) remain ... earthy.
Jesus was less concerned with heaven above than with heaven below, on earth. Most of his parables were set in this flesh-and-blood world. They were about real life, not "a pie in the sky when you die by and by": a spindly mustard bush capable of hosting nesting birds; a found treasure worth more than all of one's possessions put together; a lost coin that, when recovered, brings the greatest joy; leaven, hidden in a measure of flour, that causes the whole amount to rise. Hidden blessings, he said, at every turn.
Whatever happens in the next life, Jesus drew our attention to what's happening here and now, in this one, where God is fully, if mysteriously, present. Our bodies will surely betray us, fail us, and ultimately abandon us altogether. But they are not the enemies of Spirit. They are its holy vessels that, for the moment, keep our feet on the ground.
Next week: Leaving Home