When it comes to spirituality, Jesus changes everything. Challenging preconceived ideas has always been part of who Jesus is. Along with his divinity and humanity, “rebel” seems to be his third nature. He broke Sabbath, hung out with drunks, forgave prostitutes, touched lepers, told the Pharisees their pouring over the scriptures was useless, and played with children. Any preconceived notions people held regarding the Messiah were challenged by Jesus.
And Jesus continues to do that today. All of us have preconceived ideas about what spirituality is. Typically, when we talk of spirituality we picture unquantifiable practices designed to extricate ourselves from the confines of the material world around us. So we pray, sit in silence, fast, find solitude, close our eyes and hope to be granted some respite, some relief from the world around us and allow our spirit to flourish. Giving attention to our spirit over the world around us, then, is what makes us spiritual.
Let me be clear. Those practices are not bad.
In fact, I would encourage everyone to do them.
Jesus speaks to his people through these practices and often refines and prepares them for great things. That said, if we learn anything from the incarnation of Jesus, of God taking on flesh, it is that this world matters. Punctuating this idea is the resurrection of the physical body of Jesus that at fish and Thomas touched. The incarnation and the resurrection echo God’s creative exclamation, “It is good!”
Somewhere along the line a Platonic, dualistic worldview infiltrated Christianity making the unbiblical claim that the spiritual is better than the physical. But this approach is misleading and harmful to what it means to be human. It neglects the fact that, in the incarnation, God put on flesh and then, in the resurrection, redeemed flesh. Further, at the end of all things, we will share in Jesus resurrection by being resurrected ourselves. Eternity will not be disembodied souls in an immaterial realm, but will be a material existence with bodies like Christ’s resurrected body in the new earth. This is the picture we get from the book of Revelation. The new heaven and the new earth coming down to replace the old heaven and the old earth (Revelation 21).
You see, we were created for this world. Not some other world. This world. The one with dirt and rain and sex and flowers and salt and smells. The one where the ground needs to be worked and where food is grown and then eaten in the shade of a tree. Christian spirituality is a spirituality that embraces, not just the practices that occur in our spirit like prayer, but also the earthy, dirt-under-your-fingernails calling to be in the world.
And so when we talk of Christian spirituality we must say…
Holding someone and crying with them is just as spiritual as telling them God is good (Romans 12:15).
Reconciling a relationship is just as spiritual as offering something to God (Matthew 5:23-24).
Giving food to the hungry is just as spiritual as fasting (Isaiah 58:6-9).
Doing your work, no matter your work, is just as spiritual as taking a Sabbath (2 Thessalonians 3:6-9).
Resting is just as spiritual as working (Exodus 20:8-10).
Laughing with friends is just as spiritual as a Bible study (Romans 12:15).
Marveling and enjoying creation is just as spiritual as going to church (Psalm 8).
Doing life together is just as spiritual sharing the gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
Changing a bedpan is just as spiritual as praying for healing (James 2:14-17).
These practices and ways of being in the world matter because this world matters. It is the cry of the incarnation and the punctuation point of the resurrection. Divorcing the spiritual from the material results in the very hyper-spiritualism Jesus criticized. Jesus never abolished the spiritual practices. In fact when it comes to prayer, solitude, and fasting we see Jesus often doing these things. But he didn’t do them to escape this world or to neglect the material. Rather, he did them as an example of being fully human. Fully emotional, fully spiritual, and fully physical.
True Christian spirituality embraces the world. All of it. When we seek to live into the intended design of creation as modeled by Jesus then everything we do is spiritual.
And let’s be honest, the world needs more of that kind of spirituality.