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Essay

human spirituality

By September 14, 2013 3 Comments
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A few years back, every so often, I would sneak over to Oskaloosa, Iowa to worship at a small Episcopal church. I always joke that my 6 years of Catholic school ingrained a desire for “high” liturgy, so every other month I’d head over to Oskaloosa. I always sat in the 2nd to last row on the east side, primarily because the back row was claimed by an elderly woman with health problems. During the service she would sit slumped over the pew in front of her, struggling to breathe. When it came time to go forward for the Eucharist it would take her a while to stand up and make her way to the front. She hobbled, holding on to the pews for support, harnessing every ounce of strength to make it up the three steps and to the kneeler. When she finally got there, she received the bread with her head down and palms up. “The body of Christ broken for you.” Then the cup would come and she’d take a sip as she heard the words, “The blood of Christ shed for the forgiveness of your sins.” Then, the long trek reversed course… taking every last bit of strength to make it back to the pew where she resumed her position leaning and wheezing. 

I told this story to a group of college students the other day. We were talking about how the early Christians (2nd and 3rd century) began to articulate their understanding of salvation, spirituality, and the church. I told the students that this act – this sick, elderly, woman – dragging herself up to the front to receive the body and blood of Christ – is the greatest act of spirituality I’ve every seen. You can imagine their response…

I’m tired of over-spiritulized abstraction. I’m weary of high minded doctrinal principles. I’m done with pious, moralistic, markers of who measures up and who doesn’t. I’m tired of people confusing the “spirit” with emotion or over-sexualized worship experiences. We are, after all, human beings, and God likes it that way. God is not interested in making us angels or disembodied spirits; God became human in Jesus Christ so we might know what it mean to be flesh and blood human beings. We are creatures who need water, bread, and a little bit of wine to make our way in this world. Even if it takes some of us a little bit longer to get there…

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

3 Comments

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Love it.

  • Paul Janssen says:

    reminiscent of the words of van Ruler (will wait on Al to correct this if I'm seriouly wrong): God did not become flesh in order to make us into Christians, but in order to make us human. (And if you want to show students a rather longish list of the spiritual "essential" behaviors and beliefs for "true" Christians , see the latest blog by a certain RCA "young and reformed, but not emergent — even though he should be" at the Gospel Coalition. Offered as a pedagogical tool.) Has anyone ever seriously read Galatians? Just wondering.

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