From invisible to visible

We have created some incredibly strange notions of spirituality and the spiritual life. And these strange notions have produced some perverse outcomes.

Do we really need to withdraw from the “hustle and bustle of this world” to find spirituality? Are “retreats” the high point of a spiritual life? Ever hear anyone pray on Sunday morning to thank God for allowing us “to turn aside from the routine and ordinary things of this life” in order to be with him? Does it ever occur to you that you need more “quiet time” in “secret places” to be closer to God?

I hope you won’t misunderstand what I am saying. It isn’t that quiet time and Sunday worship aren’t very important. I’m not against retreats for teens or couples. And there is certainly value to getting away from others for times of prayer and fasting. Jesus did so occasionally. But the crux of a truly spiritual life is to sense and share God’s presence at dinner with your family, in the workplace, and while negotiating a crowded parking lot. Jesus’ life tells us that too!

My fear is that we tend to reduce spirituality to pious sentimentality. So I’m spiritual when I calm down after cursing and giving a hand gesture to the brash kid who cut me off in traffic. You are spiritual after the kids are asleep and you can do your daily Bible reading. Families are spiritual when they remember to thank God for getting them through last year’s health or financial crisis.

No, authentic spirituality is so deeply embedded in geography and history that it plays out in the common events of being human. A spiritual life is one that is so oriented to God that its work, play, and relationships reflect his presence.

Spirituality isn’t calming down after cursing and gesturing; it is being under the control of the Spirit to touch your brake, let the immature driver through, and not lose your cool. It isn’t shoving the kids out of your way; it is treating them the way Jesus treated little children and immature disciples. It is less thanking God for getting your family through tough times than reflecting his presence during them. God is present always and everywhere, and a spiritual life knows that.

Christmas reminds us that the Word became flesh. The invisible, holy God was made manifest in tangible, bodily form. Thus salvation is not a process of our refinement into pure spirits but God’s gentle reorientation of our minds and hearts, relationships and actions with his will. He redeems us by working through us to affirm and help others. He saves us by making his word become flesh in us.

In a life that is spiritual, everything tangible is both holy and matters to God.

Reprinted from Rubel Shelley’s FAX of Life.

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