(This is the second installment in my series on the 7 themes of my life. You can read the first here.)
Sacramental living. That’s what this post’s about. Well, it’s part 1 of it, at least.
It all started when I was taking religion classes at Baylor as an undergrad. Dr. Andrew Arterbury’s Johannine Theology class was kind of rocking my world with the discussion of gnosticism and the Gospel of John. I was being challenged in ways I never knew that I wanted to be.
The basic teaching of gnosticism is that the physical world is at odds with the spiritual–bad versus good. There’s something about studying theology that makes you realize, “Hey, this is actually what I believe…and it’s a heresy!” It is my personal belief that every person holds on to some amount of heresy in her personal doctrine, and faith is the working out of the truth in love. Good and solid doctrine is a journey, not a light switch.
Gnosticism was my drug of choice before I even knew what it was.
Growing up in a Christian home with parents who loved God and wanted me to do the same did not protect me from this heresy; it actually encouraged it (at no great fault of my parents, mind you). Focusing on the spiritual aspect of life was emphasized in church and it naturally flowed into all parts of my life. The flesh was bad, the spirit was good. If we could just get our flesh to go away, everything would be better. My greatest struggles focused on the schism between the flesh and the spirit, so it was obvious to me that my flesh was sinful and tainted.
I’ve heard one pastor call it ‘this flesh can.’ Like it’s a trash can.
That’s about how I felt.
But talking through the pitfalls of gnosticism in the context of the Incarnation in Dr. Arterbury’s class shifted my mindset–
God made a good world! It says so in Genesis 1.
He didn’t send Jesus into the world to rescue us from the world (the physical reality of creation); He sent Jesus to rescue us from the power of sin (the spiritual reality of evil). And even if I miss God’s words at creation marking it as good, there is this event called the Incarnation.
I’ll say it again–the Incarnation. The most wonderful and beautiful destruction of gnostic doctrine that could ever be conceived. That the second Person of the Trinity would BECOME A HUMAN. This is huge. And not only does Jesus become a human as Mary’s egg receives the life of the God of the Universe and implants in her uterus, He STAYS A HUMAN FOREVER. Flesh and bone. So this flesh-bad-spirit-good thing was really challenged in my heart.
All this leads one to the conclusion that the flesh is probably not inherently evil, since God could become flesh. And if the flesh isn’t evil, then what is it? Neutral? Maybe.
But I have been on a journey over the past 9 years learning that it’s not neutral–it’s beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that it has incredible ramifications–Jesus is a Man; He’s not going back to a disembodied state. Neither are we. And because He makes all things new, He’s not just scrapping this thing called the Earth–but I’ll go more into that in the 6th installment of the series. Patience, grasshopper. Patience.
So, along with my discovery about being a heretic, Dr. Arterbury’s class pushed me into some other interesting conflicts, like the authorship of the Gospel of John. At first the idea of it possibly being Mary Magdalene or Lazarus really fascinated me. But my fascination soon led to a sort of uneasiness, like being afloat in a sea with big waves and no experienced sailor at the helm. Just me. Oh, and some Biblical scholars from the late 20th century with groovy ideas.
This uneasiness pushed me into something glorious–Church Tradition. A harbor in the storm of Biblical literature and criticism. Yes, God is always doing a new thing. But He’s also been doing a beautiful thing through His Church. So let’s not be arrogant teenagers and assume we know better than our Christian mothers and fathers. Let’s get their perspective on things before we make up our minds completely.
How does this fit into sacramental living?