catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 6 :: 2007.03.23 — 2007.04.06


From the ashes

"From dust you were created; to dust you shall return."

"I believe in the resurrection of the body."

I can handle an open casket at a funeral.  The reality of the body doesn't bother me.  However, the point at which I usually begin to squirm is when the gruesome theological clichés start appearing in the guise of comfort to the bereaved—and worse, in the form of spiritual authority from the pulpit.  Jonathan Edwards may have written about how he couldn't wait to be rid of his body to be conformed to the image of Christ, but that doesn't mean we have to repeat it.

When did the idea that the body is bad and the soul is good creep into popular theology?  Perhaps it's just an ancient philosophical dust bunny that got caught under the bed; very few realize it's there even as its particulates choke us in our sleep. Good and evil cannot be easily delineated according to matter and non-matter—the incarnation tells me so.  C.S. Lewis writes, in Mere Christianity, "There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God, God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it."  And yet we tend to behave as though the matters of the soul far outweigh the matters of the body.  We preach that God "so loved the world" over bad coffee in Styrofoam cups.

From Robert Farrar Capon's glorious theological-culinary reflection, The Supper of the Lamb:

There is a habit that plagues many so-called spiritual minds: they imagine that matter and spirit are somehow at odds with each other and that the right course for human life is to escape from the world of matter into some finer and purer (and undoubtedly duller) realm.  To me, that is a crashing mistake—and it is, above all, a theological mistake.  Because, in fact, it was God who invented dirt, onions and turnip greens; God who invented human beings, with their strange compulsion to cook their food; God who, at the end of each day of creation, pronounced a resounding "Good!" over his own concoctions.  And it is God's unrelenting love of all the stuff of this world that keeps it in being at every moment.  So, if we are fascinated, even intoxicated, by matter, it is no surprise: we are made in the image of the Ultimate Materialist.

And that Ultimate Materialist saw fit to create both "every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food."  Both pleasure and purpose find a home in a world that is both visible and invisible. 

As the story goes, it was the crisp bite of one tree's fruit that resulted in death.  Death is certainly transformation, as we're prone to consider at funerals, but it is also death—a reminder that we chose the path of knowledge in the Garden over the path of life.  Some would say this is the point at which we became fully human; others would say the bow to temptation was the pivotal destructive act, humanity from its "mother's womb untimely ripped."  Regardless, it set in motion a long story that lead to the cross.

Imagine contemporary mourners at the wake of our Lord.  After consulting each other on how good he looks for being dead, they shed a few tears and nod earnestly while they assure each other: "He's in a better place."  And then they stop at a chain grocery store on the way home to pick up pork chops and Jello for dinner in front of Grey's Anatomy.

But it turns out that the "better place" was characterized by such an intense longing for resurrection that it actually reversed death.  The Lord was not, in fact, "finally at peace" after all that needless suffering.  Separation of soul from body was something to be overcome.  Therefore we do not seek to be conformed in death to a disembodied Christ, but to the Christ who emerged a quite bodied person on the other side of the grave.  And why wait?  Unless we're simply too distracted by the latest cheap entertainment to notice we're in a new reality…

Our true longing is not to shed one okay part of ourselves in favor of another better part, but to be complete in all respects—as mysteriously physical, spiritual beings who take delight in poetry, sex, seeing, loving, raking leaves.  Beings who sweat it out in the midsummer garden to honor some invisible inclination to cultivate.  Beings who are inclined to cry when a piece of music hits our ears in the right place at the right time.

And so let us give thanks that the season that begins with the truth of ashes on our foreheads ends with the truth of a living, walking, eating, breathing God.  From dust we were created, to dust we shall return, and then…well, we know what happened to the dry bones.  And now let's live like we believe it.

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