How do we define what physical experiences are also spiritual experiences? It depends on our perspective, motivation, orientation, and intention.
So, likewise, in his business in the kitchen (to which he had naturally a great aversion), having accustomed himself to doing everything there for the love of God, and with prayer upon all occasions, for His grace to do his work well, he had found everything easy, during fifteen years that he had been employed there. (14)
Further, he talks about the denial of the flesh for the support of spiritual pursuit as having little positive effect in itself. Rather, it was his orientation toward God that had positive spiritual effect:
That all bodily mortifications and other exercises are useless, except as they serve to arrive at the union with God by love; that he had well considered this, and found it the shortest way to go straight to Him by a continual exercise of love, and doing all things for His sake. (15)
Not everything that happens in our physical bodies has spiritual benefit– and likewise, not everything that we attempt in our minds has spiritual benefit. What makes our actions and efforts spiritual is not whether they take place in the physical or mental world but whether they are oriented toward God.
In this way, eating lunch can be spiritual — or not.
Reading scripture can be spiritual — or not.
Washing dishes can be spiritual — or not.
Going to church can be spiritual — or not.
Taking a walk can be spiritual — or not.
Praying can be spiritual — or not.
Having sex can be spiritual — or not.
Singing a hymn can be spiritual — or not.
Even farting can be spiritual — or not.
I don’t know about you, but I have had some of my most profound experiences of God while sitting on the toilet or lounging in the bathtub. It may not be the most “appropriate” setting for meeting the Creator, but our God is not as disturbed by our basic bodily functions as we might have been trained to expect.
When we engage our bodies and minds together in an orientation, a mindset, a focus toward opening ourselves to the counter-cultural and unexpected work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we might just be surprised at the avenues God uses to reach us with words of grace, mercy, conviction, and kindness.
Just like Brother Lawrence, we can learn to experience God while we are performing our least preferred tasks — like washing dishes. God is ready and willing to meet us in whatever moment we are available and listening — whether we are sitting in the church pew or passing gas in the privacy of our boudoirs. There is no situation in which God is not capable of entering and showing us more of who God is and who we are because of God’s presence in our lives.
So next time you let one go, take the opportunity to let God speak into and through the basic, bodily experience of being alive in Christ.
You might be surprised what God can do with a little breaking wind!
One of the goals of this blog is to keep thinking theologically about how to incorporate and engage the physical body in our mental and spiritual pursuits. This balance is important not only for our spiritual lives but for our lives as a whole.
All things in moderation is a motto I remind myself of often when I indulge in fatty foods, exercise, even watching TV.
Even healthy pursuits can be bad for us in too-large quantities; likewise, less healthy pursuits can be good for us, too, in smaller quantities.
For example, having an alcoholic beverage from time to time can actually be a healthy source of antioxidants. Working out too often or too hard can lead to muscle strains, shin splints, and even dysregulated metabolism.
When we start talking about things like work/school-life balance (for an excellent and thought provoking view, I highly recommend the recently published Why Women Still Can’t Have It All), spirituality-life balance, family-friend balance, conservative-liberal balance, or even productivity-rest balance, we can start to feel like holding everything in perfect tension is an overwhelming and perhaps even impossible task.
Here’s the good news: balance is not a tight-rope act.
Balance is not about taking one painfully tense step after another intensely stressful step on a thin wire above certain death.
Finding balance in life is a lot like contemplative prayer. In contemplative prayer, there is no frustrating struggle for command over distracting thoughts. There is, instead, the honest acknowledgement of the moment and cause of distraction and the disciplined, gentle return to focus on God.
In life, we often expend unnecessary energy beating ourselves up for spending too much time and attention here and not enough there. We struggle and fight and end up in discouraging failure because the truth is we are imperfect people living imperfect lives.
Balance is about extending grace to ourselves in those moments where we step too far to the left or right or when life wears us down and we stop altogether to catch our breath and wipe the sweat out of our eyes.
Body theology is not something to beat ourselves with. It is something to slowly begin to weave into the fabric of our daily lives so that we become
more mindful of the role of our bodies,
more discerning about the messages from the Church and culture,
more aware of injustice, and
more sensitive to the movement of the Spirit within and around us.
I like one lesson Elizabeth Gilbert learns in her memoir Eat, Pray, Love: sometimes we have unbalanced seasons (where one aspect of our lives takes precedence and demands more time and attention while other important aspects may be neglected), but those seasons do not necessarily mean that we cannot have a balanced life.
A work commitment may take priority for a few weeks. A newly married couple may spend more time together than apart as they build the foundation of their marriage. The birth (or death) of a family member may require more emotional energy.
But when these seasons end (and they will), we have the opportunity to return our attention and intention — gently — to the healthy balance of spiritual, mental, and physical engagement in our life’s pursuits.
Balance is not about walking a tight-rope and hoping against hope not to tip or slip and fall.
Balance is about resuming the path toward becoming the healthy, whole people God has created us to be.
All things in moderation, lovely readers. Pace yourselves. Let’s keep walking this path together.