Thoughts to Ponder are my musings regarding community, things of the Spirit, and living as a Christ-follower. I don't offer the words of a professional or an expert; just a fellow traveler and explorer. Please don't take my musings more serious than I do. I've discovered a long time ago that I do not hold the keys of knowledge or wisdom. If I did, I misplaced them somewhere...typical.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


"For the soul and body are not divided against one another as good and evil principles; and our salvation by no means consists of a rejection of the body in order to liberate the soul from the dominance of an evil material principle. On the contrary, our body is as much ourselves as the soul, and neither one without the other can claim to exist purely in its own right, as a true personal being. It was the same also in Christ, in Whom the life, being and actions of His Body were just as much His own, and just as much divine, as the thoughts and aspirations of His soul. So when Christ walked down the roads of Galilee, it was not an illusory man or even a real man acting as a temporary 'front' for a Divine Agent: the Man Himself Who walked there was God...

"The fact that since the Incarnation God and Man have become inseparable in the One Person of Jesus Christ means that the 'supernatural order' has not just been somehow imposed from without upon created nature, but that nature itself has, in man, become transformed and supernaturalized so that in everyone in whom Christ lives and acts, by the Holy Spirit, there is no longer any further division between nature and supernature. The man who lives and acts according to the grace of Christ dwelling in him acts in the case as another Christ, as a son of God, and thus he prolongs in his own life the effects and the miracle of the Incarnation...

"But this, for the Greek Fathers, clearly means a higher and nobler level of life than we ordinarily lead. It means a life purified, liberated by the action of the Holy Spirit, a life enlightened by supernatural contemplation...We not only passively receive in us the grace of Christ, but we actively renew in our own life the self-emptying and self-transformation by which God became man. Just as the Word 'emptied himself' of His divine and transcendent nobility in order to 'descend' to the level of man, so we must empty ourselves of what is human in the ignoble sense of the word, which really means less than human...This does not mean the sacrifice or destruction of anything that really belongs to our human nature as it was assumed by Christ, but it means the complete radical cutting off of everything in us that was not assumed by Him because it was not capable of being divinized. And what is this? It is every thing that is focused on our exterior and self-centered passion as self-assertion, greed, lust; as the desire for the survival and perpetuation of our illusory and superficial self, to the detriment of our interior and true self. But our inner man is 'renewed in Christ' to become the 'new man.'"

-Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation

Throughout the years popular Christianity has almost fallen into the Western mindset of Greek dualism: the body is evil, the spirit is good. Even during funerals and wakes we hear the subtle (and not so subtle) hints of this attitude. "This really isn't Joe. This is just his shell. What's really Joe is gone."

Hebrew and Christian thought does not separate the body, soul and spirit. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul prays that the Thessalonians will be preserved body, soul and spirit until the coming of Jesus. Yes, there is separation in death--but we look forward to an event called the resurrection! The attitude that somehow our body is inferior to our spirit leads to all kinds of misunderstandings and even abuses. This physical world is precious to God. He expects us to live in it physically and spiritually. He expects us to bring things like healing, justice, mercy, and peace into this physical world right now. He doesn't expect us to wait around for the end times! He calls us to live now and to make a difference now.

We are not called to slough off our bodies and find freedom from them (via Eastern forms of meditation). We are called instead to slough off attitudes of self-centeredness, selfishness, arrogance and pride. If you notice, these are not physical attributes. As Merton wrote, these are the things which make us less than human.

Think about it.


Steve Coan said...

Amen. And this is why blogs and other virtual communities, chat rooms, and cell phones do not replace true community. Touching is good. Paul in four different letters in the Bible closes with "Greet everyone with a holy kiss." The few times I have done that, I don't think people knew what to do with it. I think we have lost our way.

It's fascinating that God spoke in so many ways throughout history, so many mysterious ways, but when he was ready to top it all, he spoke through his Son. "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us."

The body is good "because for us, the highest value isn't word, it's flesh. The highest value isn't just talking about things, it's those things becoming flesh and blood. And so it isn't just these nice ideas, it's when these nice ideas get ahold of us and become the way we live and move and have our being." (Rob Bell, in a sermon a few weeks ago)

Great, great post. I love that you pointed out the things we are supposed to mortify, namely various forms of evil thinking. I'm going to have to read Merton. I'm reading Nouwen now.

Darryl said...

Thanks for your post, Steve. And I loved the Bell Quote!

Henri Nouwen is one of my favorites. Merton is a more challenging read, but I think you will enjoy him.