A Spiritual Religion

By James Cornwell

A Reading from Romans 8:1-10

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law — indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

Meditation

Today’s reading from the epistle to the Romans exhorts us to live “according to the Spirit” rather than “according to the flesh.” This contrast between the flesh and the spirit is sometimes misinterpreted, calling into question the inherent goodness of our bodies and physical things. The irony is that in order to live “according to the Spirit,” we must remember that we are embodied creatures.

Consider, in contrast, the temptations that are especially pronounced in our post-COVID age of screens, the metaverse, and so-called “augmented reality.” We are continually pushed by the world to regard our bodies as machines that we instrumentalize toward the satisfaction of our disembodied “selves” — usually in order to sell us something. The world tries to fool us into thinking that such a disembodied view of life is more “spiritual” than a life lived in awareness that we are beings of flesh and blood. Indeed, much of our culture is aimed at helping our “self” escape our bodily finitude and mortality.

But Christianity is not a “spiritual” religion, and this vision is ultimately a false one. Lent is, in many ways, a reminder of our embodied nature. We begin the season on Ash Wednesday when we remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. We are called throughout the season to engage in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving — practices that, if anything, heighten our awareness of our dependent, embodied natures. They remind us that the way we actually interact with the world is through our mortal bodies, and that our time to do so is short.

In the gospel reading for today, Jesus directs our vision to the end of the age, when all the dead will hear his voice and rise again. When we remember our bodies, we can hear this prophecy as good news, and declare with the evangelist, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”

James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their seven children.

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