Monday, March 27, 2006

heart, mind and soul, part 1 (a lent lesson)

For years I sorted through the separation and hierarchy of the physical, emotional and spiritual. It was presented to me that these three elements of our being were very different, separate, and ascending in terms of levels of consciousness. We talked a lot about them in a musical context in grad school. Music causes responses in people, the lowest of which is physical, a bit higher would be emotional, and of course the highest level response one could have to music would be spiritual. Perhaps because of the context of discussion, I tried to relate these elements of being to the elements of music. Rhythm, melody and harmony. These are certainly ascending in complexity, rhythm simplest, and standing alone, melody next, but always has rhythm, and finally the highest level, harmony, which requires and implies rhythm and melody.
It would make sense then that with physical, emotional and spiritual, each higher level would imply the lower levels as well.
But also in grad school, I was exposed to a lot of zen thinking and questions concerning highest levels of learning, doing and being. It seemed that a lot of religious philosophical pursuits were concerned with reaching spiritual levels that transcended the body, left the physical completely behind.
This was all very interesting to me, and in fact, a revisit, because as a kid I saw lots of emotion in church. In fact, I felt lots of emotion at church. I felt emotion and heard talk of the Holy Spirit, of his presence, and I wondered at where the line was – where is that place that crosses from emotion into the spiritual, and is it manifest without emotion?
Thus my pseudo hierarchy with each requiring the one below it. I felt, operated and pursued like this for years until, Peterson (of course) seemed to confirm my feelings when he talked about our only access to the spiritual being the physical. Now that I think of it, he may have been quoting someone else. This would seem to apply at whatever menial context. If the spiritual is the highest response to music, for example, how would we access the stimulus if not through our physical ears? Of course the music may only cause us to move our feet, but to respond emotionally or spiritually, we have to hear the music.
It would seem that while on this earth, we have access to the emotional and spiritual, only through the physical. Though we may not react emotionally to something physical, it is very common for us to respond physically to emotion. We shed tears at both sadness and happiness, but of course, tears aren’t merely an emotional response, we also cry from physical pain or discomfort. Anxiety or fear changes our breathing pattern, raises our blood pressure, increases our heart rate, induces nausea. Likewise, the spiritual, may cause an emotional response, which manifests itself in the physical. Granted, I believe that the spiritual is an enigma to body-bound humanity, and in fact, is a reality completely separate from the physical. Jesus expresses this to Nicodemus who tries to understand Jesus’ ridiculous words in a natural context. Jesus explains that the spiritual can’t be explained, or understood. But, here we are, in a natural state, groping at understanding, feeling what we don’t understand, and can’t explain, and our only access for the time being to any experience of the spiritual is through are physical selves.
Though, it seems to me that the traditional teachings of Christianity have skewed this truth a bit, or a lot, it is apparent in Jesus’ teaching and lifestyle that at this point in our eternity, the body is not intended to be separate from the soul. Even the statement that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, suggests that though the Spirit can’t be understood or harnessed, it is only through our senses, emotions, and intellect that we have any spiritual knowledge at all. I wonder if in fear of our inability to overcome our urges, desires and temptations, if we have too narrowly interpreted Paul’s reference to the carnal as something to be denied, killed and forgotten, as an alternative to bringing our physical selves under the Lordship of Christ and giving our bodies as a living sacrifice to him. Paul uses words like carnal, and worldly it seems, to differentiate between our fallen, disobedient, natural wills, and the will of God accessed through our submission to him in all areas of our being. His use of the word carnal seems more encompassing than a mere reference to the evil of our flesh. He is referring also to pride, greed, covetousness, etc. It is much easier entirely to ignore a problem than to make it subject to Christ. If God asks us to present our bodies to him, surely he doesn’t mean to throw it away. Jesus put on flesh to come rescue us. Was his body evil? Of course not, he was without sin. A burden, no doubt – full of temptation, he had to make it subject to his Father through discipline. He fasted, he feasted, he denied it sleep in prayer.
We avoid the need for spiritual discernment and subjection to the Holy Spirit by throwing the baby out with the bath. We have taught that the flesh is evil, and that any happiness it might feel is a warning that we are drifting from God. As a result, we have denied ourselves the only access we have to the spiritual in this life, have redefined faith because we can’t have it without the spiritual ability to believe the unbelievable, and have depended entirely on our intellect to try to know God. We look for evidence and proof where there is no proof because God has required of us faith.
It seems to me that Christianity has become about the least spiritual religion that there is, ironically, because we try to cast off the body to attain the spiritual, and render ourselves incomplete and not completely subject to the Lordship of Christ.

Technorati Tags: ,