I appeal to you, therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies
of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable
to God, which is your spiritual worship (Rom. 12:1)
Over the next four months I’d like to share some reflections on the action of the Holy Spirit in relation to four dimensions of human action: the body, the psyche, the social existence, and culture. The Spirit works sanctification in all of these dimensions. They are all integral dimensions of our existence and not separate or discrete faculties. But each dimension provides us with an access point through which to view our existence in different but complementary ways. Let’s start with bodily or organic dimensions: our fundamental embodiedness as creatures.
We are probably used to thinking of the human spirit and the human body as being absolute competitors. For example, we celebrate Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) by indulging the appetites of the body and then hope to be spiritually renewed through Ash Wednesday’s initiation into 40 days of Lent. We tend to think of pastoral work and attending worship or praying as spiritual activities while eating and making love are fleshly and material. Being reverent in Bible study is spiritual while being raucous on the playground is merely bodily. But notice that Paul does not make this division in the passage cited above. He calls the Roman church to be spiritual by presenting their bodies to God. To be filled with the Spirit is for Paul to be fully embodied in our devotion. God is the true integration of body and spirit. In another place Paul declares, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:13). Bodily functions and the glory of God are of one piece. We may glean from just these kinds of verses that embodied life is the life God seeks to bless—the life in which God seeks to take up residence and display his glory. We are more than bodies but we are not less than bodies. We are embodied beings, embodied spirits, and our contact with the world is always fundamentally embodied—even and especially our relationship to God.
The implication here is that the work of the Holy Spirit is never to take us out of our embodiedness but to put us more fully into our embodied existence where God wishes to reign. The life of the Spirit in us is a life lived through our senses and our minds. When we are in the Spirit of God we are more aware of our embodied humanity, more in tune with the earthly existence we inhabit, including our mortality. We are, it would seem, also more fully aware of the brightness of the colors, of the sweetness of the air, of the joys of just living. We are more fully in tune with one another, with the spirit of the other embodied person, when our spirits come alive through God’s Spirit to God’s delight in each one of us. We pick up gestures and nuances that intensify our compassion for those around us when the Spirit reigns. At the same time, paradoxically, we are also less enamored with making the things of the world objects of covetousness or greed—i.e. idolatry. We don’t place our trust in the things of the world when the Spirit reigns. The things of the world become for us not objects to horde but gifts to enjoy, receive, and share. When the Spirit came upon those gathered in Jerusalem on the first Pentecost, the community “shared all they had in common” such that no one had any need. And when Ananias and Sapphira kept back wealth and only pretended to share, they became victims of the Spirit’s judgment (Acts 5). The Spirit created and blessed the fellowship of embodied saints and judged the spirit of covetousness because such a spirit breaks apart the fellowship of the body.
Both creation and redemption focus on the body. Our embodied existence is part of God’s “very good” creation. And Jesus’ incarnation is the font of our new redemption, our renewed creation as embodied creatures alive in the Spirit of God.