Sacra­men­tal Life

I’m sit­ting in a rather funky neigh­bor­hood cof­fee shop in down­town Den­ver, eat­ing ice cream while I write. There’s no air-con­di­tion­ing, so the door is open to let in some of the brisk late Fall air. The sounds of the street out­side drift in— pass­ing traf­fic, a con­ver­sa­tion on the oth­er side of the road, a dog yap­ping in the dis­tance. A CD is play­ing behind the mean­der­ing con­ver­sa­tions; the cur­rent track is Nor­man Greenbaum’s clas­sic psy­che­del­ic num­ber, Spir­it in the Sky:

When I die and they lay me to rest,
Gonna go to the place that’s best;
When I lay me down to die
Goin’ up to the Spir­it in the Sky.

The the­ol­o­gy of the song is not great (many of us, at least, would raise an eye­brow at lines like I’m not a sin­ner, I’ve nev­er sinned …”) but these open­ing lines pret­ty much sum up a belief held by many oth­er­wise per­fect­ly ortho­dox Chris­tians today: our ulti­mate des­ti­na­tion in life is heav­en, where the Spir­it of God dwells, and life in this world is only a brief tran­si­tion­al expe­ri­ence on the way to eter­nal bliss. To echo the words of the folk singer Arlo Guthrie,

We are only pas­sen­gers on the last train to glo­ry
That will soon be long, long gone.

Many of us have been taught to see our­selves as cit­i­zens of two very dif­fer­ent worlds: this mate­r­i­al uni­verse, the tran­sient and sin­ful world which we are only pass­ing through, and the greater real­i­ty of heav­en, an unearth­ly and spir­i­tu­al realm in which we tru­ly belong.

It is a com­pelling per­spec­tive: life in two acts. This first act may be a tragedy, in which we are vul­ner­a­ble to every woe of this world before all is dis­solved in death, but at least in the sec­ond all is made well and the tears of this val­ley of shad­ows can be for­got­ten. The only prob­lem is that this per­spec­tive is not ter­ri­bly Chris­t­ian. It is not that we do not believe in heav­en, of course; we, too, can look up into the heav­ens with the singers and sigh long­ing­ly for a bet­ter place — or per­haps more accu­rate­ly, we look into the future, towards the promised com­ing of the king­dom of God in all its full­ness. But Chris­t­ian faith is also root­ed firm­ly in the soil of this world, this uni­verse, this life. We may think it is com­fort­ing to see our­selves only as strangers and pil­grims on a jour­ney through the wilder­ness of this world, but when we allow our­selves to think this way we are fail­ing to grasp some­thing very star­tling which lies at the very heart of the Gospel: the phys­i­cal­i­ty of Jesus.

The Blessed Earth

In the open­ing nar­ra­tive of Gen­e­sis, God cre­ates the entire mate­r­i­al uni­verse and repeat­ed­ly declares it to be good” (Gen­e­sis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25). As the cul­mi­na­tion of all his cre­ative acts God final­ly forms a human being — not a pure­ly spir­i­tu­al angel or ghost, but a flesh and blood per­son replete with skin, bones, mus­cles, sinews, and flow­ing blood. And into this phys­i­cal being God breathes his Spir­it, that which gives the new human being God’s very image and like­ness with­in — and, at last, God pro­claims this entire work of cre­ation very good” (Gen­e­sis 1:31). This procla­ma­tion is nev­er once reversed through­out the whole length and breadth of Scrip­ture. Noth­ing which hap­pens after the cre­ation of the cos­mos — not sin and the Fall, not the flood, not the deprav­i­ty of suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions of peo­ples, not even the ham­mer­ing of the nails into the hands of Christ — once caus­es God to revoke his bless­ing on the mate­r­i­al uni­verse: it is very good.”

In fact, God fre­quent­ly reit­er­ates his bless­ing on all that he has made. He echoes to Noah the encour­age­ment giv­en to the first man and woman: be fruit­ful and mul­ti­ply, bring forth abun­dant­ly on the earth” (Gen­e­sis 9:7, cf Gen­e­sis 1:28). He promis­es to rain bless­ing on the land of the Israelites if they remain faith­ful to the covenant with their Cre­ator: Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, and the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your beasts, the increase of your cat­tle, and the young of your flock” (Deuteron­o­my 28:4). His delight both in the act of cre­ation and the ongo­ing work of sus­tain­ing this uni­verse are cel­e­brat­ed over and over: Job is remind­ed of this force­ful­ly (Job 38 – 39), Solomon rejoic­es over it (Proverbs 8:22 – 31), and the Psalmist returns to the theme often. David, for exam­ple, cel­e­brates God’s faith­ful year­ly bless­ing of the crops and fields:

You vis­it the earth and water it,
you great­ly enrich it;
the riv­er of God is full of water;
you pro­vide the peo­ple with grain,
for so you have pre­pared it.
You water the fur­rows abun­dant­ly,
set­ting its ridges,
soft­en­ing it with show­ers,
and bless­ing its growth.
You crown the year with your boun­ty! (Psalm 65:9 – 11)

Through­out world his­to­ry, in a num­ber of dif­fer­ent cul­tures, peo­ple have devel­oped dual­ist philo­soph­i­cal per­spec­tives: the idea that there are two equal and opposed realms of human expe­ri­ence, the spir­i­tu­al realm of good­ness and light, and the mun­dane or even evil realm of the mate­r­i­al and phys­i­cal. This kind of think­ing is for­eign to the bib­li­cal writ­ers. They under­stood clear­ly that this world is a place which reveals the majesty and won­der of its Cre­ator, that the heav­ens are telling of the glo­ry of God; and the fir­ma­ment pro­claims his hand­i­work” (Psalm 19:1). Paul, writ­ing to the Romans, urges them to remem­ber that ever since the cre­ation of the world [God’s] eter­nal pow­er and divine nature, invis­i­ble though they are, have been under­stood and seen through the things he has made” (Romans 1:20). And in recount­ing his vision of the com­ing of Christ, John affirms the visions of Isa­iah when he declares that this world ends only to give place to anoth­er: I saw a new heav­en and a new earth; for the first heav­en and the first earth had passed away” (Rev­e­la­tion 21:1; cf Isa­iah 65:17 – 25).

The Word Became Flesh

Far and away the most star­tling affir­ma­tion of God’s plea­sure in this phys­i­cal world, how­ev­er, is found in the event which the bib­li­cal writ­ers came to see as the hinge of his­to­ry: the incar­na­tion of Jesus. In the begin­ning was the Word,” writes John at the open­ing of his Gospel, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). In the Greek cul­ture which John addressed, this Word (in Greek, the logos, a term with a long and rich philo­soph­i­cal his­to­ry) would imme­di­ate­ly be under­stood as some­thing fun­da­men­tal­ly intel­lec­tu­al and spir­i­tu­al, dwelling far above the grimy real­i­ties of this earth. Jew­ish read­ers, mean­while, would have heard allu­sions to the Wis­dom of God (notably described in Proverbs) and per­haps to the Torah, the great word” of God which, for some, was believed to be the word spo­ken at the begin­ning of all time to which Gen­e­sis 1 refers.

But John pro­ceeds to make a series of claims for this Word” which would have shak­en the minds of both Jew and Greek alike. First, says John, this Word” is inti­mate­ly bound up in the mate­r­i­al, phys­i­cal world which sur­rounds us: All things came into being through him, and with­out him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all peo­ple” (John 1:3 – 4). He writes about the logos not as some mys­te­ri­ous, imper­son­al force which pat­terns cre­ation, but rather as a per­son, one who lives and brings life, one with whom we might enter into rela­tion­ship. While this would have made per­fect sense to John’s Jew­ish read­ers, who would imme­di­ate­ly have under­stood John to be writ­ing about the Cre­ator, philo­soph­i­cal Greek writ­ers would have been rather more star­tled. The idea that one could enjoy a rela­tion­ship with the logos was entire­ly new to Greek thinking.

And then John push­es his read­ers fur­ther still. The Word became flesh,” he writes, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glo­ry, glo­ry as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14). At this point John’s Jew­ish read­ers would also have been shocked. While they might have been com­fort­able with the idea of iden­ti­fy­ing the logos with the action of God in cre­ation (or at least with the Torah, the word of God spo­ken from cre­ation), the idea that God might become flesh — that the order­ing prin­ci­ple of the cos­mos might not only be a divine per­son” with whom we might be able to expe­ri­ence rela­tion­ship but might choose to enter into his own cre­at­ed world in human flesh — was an astound­ing sur­prise. And even Greek read­ers would have been some­what dis­con­cert­ed; despite their long tra­di­tion of mytho­log­i­cal sto­ries in which the gods entered this world dis­guised as peo­ple or ani­mals (or even forces of nature) there was no prece­dent for the asser­tion that either a divine cre­ator or some more imper­son­al logos might vol­un­tar­i­ly sur­ren­der his exalt­ed place in the heav­ens in order to live out a lim­it­ed, vul­ner­a­ble human life here on earth.

And with­in the Chris­t­ian the­o­log­i­cal tra­di­tion this tak­ing flesh” of the logos, the com­ing of God into human his­to­ry and the phys­i­cal world in the manger at Beth­le­hem, was quick­ly under­stood to be the defin­i­tive start­ing point for think­ing about the cre­ation. A con­sis­tent­ly dual­ist Chris­t­ian phi­los­o­phy — an attempt to assert that the mate­r­i­al world is some­how intrin­si­cal­ly evil or alien­at­ed from God, and is some­thing we must endure as a tri­al or pun­ish­ment pri­or to enter­ing into the pure­ly spir­i­tu­al joys of heav­en — sim­ply can­not be main­tained in the face of the incar­na­tion. Jesus rede­fines the way we see the cosmos.

A Jesus Per­spec­tive” On Life

It was not only the fact of Jesus incar­na­tion which helped re-frame the Chris­t­ian under­stand­ing of life in this world, how­ev­er. The way in which he lived his own life also illu­mi­nat­ed the val­ue God places on the realm of the ordi­nary: the day to day busi­ness of work, fam­i­ly life, meals, trav­el, and con­ver­sa­tion which make up the warp and woof of almost the whole of our exis­tence. First, the Gospels are care­ful to empha­size the fam­i­ly life into which Jesus entered in Nazareth. The ear­li­est gen­er­a­tions of Chris­tians were sur­prised to find that the Gospels were not filled with sto­ries of young Jesus per­form­ing the same kind of mir­a­cles and heal­ings which seemed to pep­per his adult life. So sur­prised, in fact, that they rapid­ly began cre­at­ing them from whole cloth. Some of these tales have sur­vived down to our day; nar­ra­tives of Jesus strik­ing dead his play­mates with a judg­men­tal word then rais­ing them to life again, or fash­ion­ing clay spar­rows in the back yard and bring­ing them to life. Yet the bib­li­cal Gospels know noth­ing of such flights of imag­i­na­tion. In fact, oth­er than the inci­dent of Jesus being left behind in the tem­ple at Jerusalem and amaz­ing the teach­ers of the law with his pro­found under­stand­ing of Torah, there appears to be very lit­tle that is unusu­al or note­wor­thy about Christ’s child­hood and ear­ly adult years.

It is worth tak­ing a moment to reflect on the sig­nif­i­cance of this. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” God emp­tied him­self and took human form (Philip­pi­ans 2:7), enter­ing into this mag­nif­i­cent and bro­ken world in which we live. And for almost thir­ty years he … did noth­ing strik­ing at all. He lived at home with his par­ents, ate meals, made friends. As he grew he was, pre­sum­ably, appren­ticed to Joseph’s trade: he became a car­pen­ter. Work­ing with wood, he learned to fash­ion fur­ni­ture and house­hold goods, and prob­a­bly also worked on con­struc­tion sites build­ing homes in the area around Nazareth. Pic­ture this: God sat astride a roof-beam with his work­mates, ham­mer pushed into his belt, eat­ing bread and olives for lunch while con­tem­plat­ing the com­ing afternoon’s tasks. God bring­ing dig­ni­ty to the ordi­nary, to labor and com­pan­ion­ship, to the sim­ple busi­ness of earn­ing a liv­ing. Imag­ine Jesus as a child play­ing in the yard. Or as a stu­dent learn­ing to read and write. Or com­fort­ing a friend after a bereave­ment (and not imme­di­ate­ly rais­ing the dead per­son to life). Or tak­ing a half-day’s jour­ney to town to buy build­ing mate­ri­als. The Gospel’s do not dwell on this aspect of Christ’s sto­ry — and yet this is the shape of the first thir­ty years of his life. Almost all of it. The last three years or so, with which we are so famil­iar, rep­re­sent a sud­den and breath­tak­ing burst of ener­gy at the end of three decades of obscurity.

And yet even in the Gospel accounts we see the sheer nor­mal­i­ty of Jesus’ life con­tin­u­ing. Despite his divine pow­ers he does not fly from town to town like Super­man; he still walks, enjoy­ing con­ver­sa­tion with his dis­ci­ples and friends, and arriv­ing tired, hun­gry, and dusty from the road. He still sits at table to share sim­ple meals with peo­ple. His teach­ing is laced with tales of the every­day: a house­wife knead­ing bread, a farmer sow­ing seed, a shep­herd round­ing up his sheep, a mer­chant trad­ing. In his para­bles we meet not angels, saints, and holy men and women, but an unjust judge, a shrewd but dis­hon­est stew­ard, debtors, sol­diers — the reg­u­lar folks who pop­u­lat­ed the city streets. And even when Jesus per­formed mir­a­cles, he often did so through the most ordi­nary means. When he feeds five thou­sand peo­ple on a Galilean hill­side, he does not sum­mon super­nat­ur­al bread from heav­en, the man­na of the book of Exo­dus. He takes five com­mon­place loaves of bread and a cou­ple of fish — the stan­dard fare that might have graced any Pales­tin­ian peasant’s table — and mul­ti­plies them beyond mea­sure. He rubs mud into a blind man’s eyes to bring heal­ing, and turns well-water into sparkling wine. Every­where he goes, Jesus rev­els in the cre­ation, cel­e­brates the mate­r­i­al and phys­i­cal world. Th ere is absolute­ly no hint in the Gospel that Jesus is sim­ply pass­ing through” this world. He is solid­ly root­ed in it.

Per­haps the great­est exam­ple of Jesus cel­e­brat­ing the sacred­ness of the ordi­nary, though, can be found in the two acts known to lat­er ages of the church as the sacra­ments or ordi­nances of Christ: bap­tism and the shar­ing of bread and wine in a com­mon meal. Through twen­ty cen­turies Chris­tians have hot­ly debat­ed the the­ol­o­gy and sig­nif­i­cance of these two acts (espe­cial­ly the lat­ter, which we know by a dizzy­ing vari­ety of names that reflect our dif­fer­ent under­stand­ings — the eucharist, com­mu­nion, mass, break­ing of bread, Lord’s Sup­per, and more). But every church in every gen­er­a­tion has rec­og­nized that they need to be cel­e­brat­ed using some of the sim­plest, most com­mon sub­stances we expe­ri­ence — water, bread, and wine (or, at least, grape juice — even here we find room to dis­agree with one anoth­er!) When Jesus wants to lead us into some of the deep­est expe­ri­ences of the king­dom of God he uses the most famil­iar, every­day mate­ri­als. And, of course, some of the most phys­i­cal. In every way, Jesus affirmed and took joy in the mate­r­i­al cre­ation and our every­day lives with­in it. Per­haps we should be more atten­tive to this sim­ple, strik­ing fact. To bor­row the title of Arund­hati Roy’s nov­el, Jesus repeat­ed­ly demon­strat­ed him­self to be The God of Small Things.

Prac­tic­ing the Sacra­men­tal Life

How can we learn to prac­tice a more sacra­men­tal” life — a life that takes seri­ous­ly the ordi­nary, the every­day, and the phys­i­cal world? 

We might per­haps start by explor­ing that word, sacra­men­tal.” It is an uncom­fort­able word for some. Dur­ing and after the Ref­or­ma­tion many Chris­tians began to ques­tion the teach­ing about the sacra­ments” that had devel­oped in the Roman Catholic church — the idea, for exam­ple, that the bread and wine on the altar were lit­er­al­ly trans­formed into the body and blood of Jesus through some mirac­u­lous act of God. They expressed that dis­com­fort and dis­agree­ment either by adopt­ing rather dif­fer­ent lan­guage to describe these acts of wor­ship (so, for exam­ple, the Bap­tist tra­di­tion began to speak of them as Christ’s ordi­nances,” plac­ing more weight on the com­mand of Jesus than the effect of the action itself ), while oth­ers sim­ply laid them aside as divi­sive and unnec­es­sary (for exam­ple, the Sal­va­tion Army or the Quakers).

We are not about to unrav­el twen­ty cen­turies of dis­agree­ment in these few pages. But it might be help­ful to look more close­ly at how the sacra­men­tal” church­es actu­al­ly define the word before we reject it alto­geth­er. In the litur­gi­cal tra­di­tion, a sacra­ment” is usu­al­ly defined as an out­ward and vis­i­ble sign of an inward and spir­i­tu­al grace.” Now admit­ted­ly it is a lit­tle hard for me to judge here, since I con­fess that I belong to a strong­ly sacra­men­tal” tra­di­tion and so I am very pre­dis­posed to like the word! But it does seem to me that there is very lit­tle in this def­i­n­i­tion that should offend any Chris­t­ian believ­er. It need not imply accep­tance of any par­tic­u­lar the­o­ry of what hap­pens to water, bread, or wine dur­ing an act of wor­ship. In fact, it need not imply the neces­si­ty of engag­ing in those acts at all. It seems to me to be a def­i­n­i­tion which is open to Catholics, Bap­tists, and Quak­ers alike — and all those who lie between those dis­parate views. It sim­ply offers the idea that it is pos­si­ble for the phys­i­cal world to speak to us of spir­i­tu­al real­i­ty. That need not be a divi­sive or sec­tar­i­an concept!

So let us side­step for a moment the ques­tions sur­round­ing water, bread, and wine. There are plen­ty of won­der­ful books that have been writ­ten from every imag­in­able the­o­log­i­cal per­spec­tive that can lead us deep­er into the vari­ety of inter­pre­ta­tions of bap­tism and the com­mu­nion meal. Instead, let us take that def­i­n­i­tion and sweep it across the broad can­vas of our entire lives. What might my life and world look like if I under­stood them to be essen­tial­ly sacra­men­tal”? In oth­er words, what would it mean for my exis­tence, every­thing I do and every­thing I expe­ri­ence in this mate­r­i­al world, to be seen as an out­ward and vis­i­ble sign of an inward and spir­i­tu­al grace”?

In fact, I think this is a far more fruit­ful ques­tion than bick­er­ing over the sig­nif­i­cance of our acts of wor­ship (how­ev­er impor­tant they may be). How would it affect my par­ent­ing if I under­stood rais­ing chil­dren as a sacra­men­tal act — a way of man­i­fest­ing spir­i­tu­al grace in the every­day world? How would it shape my under­stand­ing of my (per­haps some­times rather tedious) dai­ly work? How would I find myself look­ing at my neigh­bor­hood, those who live around me, if I saw them through sacra­men­tal eyes? What would hap­pen if I went shop­ping for sacra­ments rather than gro­ceries and possessions?

The first step towards sacra­men­tal liv­ing is sim­ply learn­ing to see life through new eyes — to under­stand the invis­i­ble, spir­i­tu­al grace that puls­es under the sur­face of our mun­dane exis­tence. Let me off er one sug­ges­tion as to how you might begin to acquire that new perspective.

I would like to sug­gest that you attend a real­ly high-church, rit­u­al­is­tic, pomp-and-cir­cum­stances litur­gi­cal church ser­vice. Go for some­thing tru­ly spec­tac­u­lar — you are look­ing for a dozen min­is­ters in flow­ing vest­ments, a pro­fu­sion of can­dles, and bil­low­ing incense. Find a place where they real­ly pull out all the stops. That may be your idea of heav­en (truth­ful­ly, it’s not far from mine!) or it may give you cold shiv­ers. No mat­ter. You are not attend­ing in order to cri­tique their the­ol­o­gy or wor­ship. You do not — even for a moment — have to like it. But I want you to watch what hap­pens very care­ful­ly. Take in the col­ors and per­fumes in the air. Watch the ges­tures and move­ments. Lis­ten to the song and spo­ken word. And take note of how every­thing — every­thing — that hap­pens fix­es your atten­tion inex­orably on two of the most ordi­nary things in this world: a plate of bread and a cup of wine. At the heart of all this astound­ing cer­e­mo­ny is the kind of sim­ple meal a work­man could rus­tle up in thir­ty sec­onds in his kitchen and eat in the cab of his crane while he is working.

Now, hav­ing tak­en in this spec­ta­cle, try to find some appro­pri­ate way to recre­ate it in your own life. Shape an every­day expe­ri­ence so that the pres­ence of God in the world of the ordi­nary becomes unmiss­able. Here is one exam­ple — the way I did this myself a few years back. While my fam­i­ly was out one after­noon, I pre­pared a meal for them. I gave myself a cou­ple of hours to get it togeth­er, even though it was only a sim­ple lasagna. First, I lit can­dles all around the kitchen. Then I put on a CD of wor­ship music. I gath­ered all the ingre­di­ents on the kitchen work sur­face. Then I began to pray over them. I said grace over that meal — before I even began cook­ing — with a thor­ough­ness that has rarely been seen in his­to­ry before or since. I gave thanks for every car­rot indi­vid­u­al­ly. As I peeled, sliced, cut, and chopped, I prayed and sang. That meal was sanctified!

Then, while the lasagna was in the oven, I began to pray round the din­ing table. I stood over each chair and prayed for every fam­i­ly mem­ber one by one. In par­tic­u­lar, I asked that dur­ing the meal I might be able to be atten­tive to the pres­ence of God in the life of each person.

When the fam­i­ly came home I served up the lasagna. I doubt they noticed that any­thing was dif­fer­ent — although, of course, they were not sup­posed to notice; this was a cel­e­bra­tion of God’s pres­ence in the ordi­nary. But I noticed! It was the most prayer­ful, spir­i­tu­al, God-soaked meal I had ever eat­en. It helped me to see some­thing of the inward, spir­i­tu­al grace of God flow­ing through my out­ward, phys­i­cal world. It was a sacrament.

You might want to try some­thing sim­i­lar. How can you make your paper­work or morn­ing email into a sacra­men­tal act? Deliv­er­ing the mail? Hav­ing break­fast with your pre-school­er? Walk­ing the dog? Drink­ing cof­fee at Star­bucks? Stand­ing on the assem­bly line? Dri­ving the car? Meet­ing a friend for lunch? You do not have to do any­thing odd or pecu­liar; the point of the exer­cise is not to draw atten­tion to your­self — rather the oppo­site, in fact. Th at which is tru­ly sacra­men­tal is the most ordi­nary of all. It is about shift­ing your view­point, learn­ing to see the world in a new way, dis­cov­er­ing how to be atten­tive to God amongst the everyday.

Open to Beauty

If we want to go a lit­tle deep­er into sacra­men­tal life, we might want to begin immers­ing our­selves more deeply in the expe­ri­ence of art. All great art is an explo­ration of the rela­tion­ship between the vis­i­ble, mate­r­i­al world and our inward, spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ence. Art is always expressed through phys­i­cal media — sound, move­ment, col­or, tex­ture, shape, writ­ing. Yet it is con­stant­ly try­ing to push into some­thing deep­er and fur­ther, into the realm of the spir­it. Engag­ing with art opens us to the spir­i­tu­al dimen­sion of the mate­r­i­al world.

For some of us an explo­ration of art might mean exer­cis­ing our gifts of cre­ativ­i­ty and expres­sion to cre­ate new art — music, song, paint­ing, sculp­ture, archi­tec­ture, and so forth. It is a tremen­dous bless­ing to be able to both expand your own spir­it into the arts and also to draw oth­ers into that jour­ney along­side you.

But many more of us might be painful­ly aware of our lack of gifts in these areas. If that is you, you are in good com­pa­ny — me too! But even if we can­not real­ly cre­ate art, we can learn to engage with it. We can open our­selves to sym­phonies, paint­ings, nov­els, operas that can open our hearts and spir­its to life, oth­er peo­ple, and God. Over the cen­turies the church has had a rather hot and cold rela­tion­ship with the arts — some­times strong­ly encour­ag­ing artists to use their gifts to the glo­ry of God, and sup­port­ing their efforts gen­er­ous­ly and enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly; and at oth­er times look­ing on art with sus­pi­cion or dis­may. We are for­tu­nate to be liv­ing at a time when many church­es are more open to the arts and find­ing ways to engage with artists cre­ative­ly and thought­ful­ly. We can take advan­tage of that open­ness in our own lives.

A Final Word

The world around us is beau­ti­ful, glo­ri­ous, and delight­ful — even in its fall­en, bro­ken state. God rejoic­es and mar­vels in it, and invites us to do the same. And in the incar­na­tion of Jesus we can begin to glimpse the eter­nal sig­nif­i­cance of our every­day, mun­dane lives — our fam­i­lies and work­places, our neigh­bor­hood and com­mu­ni­ties. Our dai­ly lives, our small con­cerns, our meals and con­ver­sa­tions, our friend­ships, our hob­bies and inter­ests — we begin to see that all these are invest­ed with a deep spir­i­tu­al sig­nif­i­cance in Christ. Th is out­ward, phys­i­cal world is freight­ed with inward, spir­i­tu­al grace for those with eyes to see. Your life is a sacra­ment, made holy by God’s pres­ence with­in it; you incar­nate the life of Christ in your home, your church, your com­mu­ni­ty. I pray that you might find ways to see this astound­ing real­i­ty for your­self — and begin to live into it.

Pho­to by Peter Li on Unsplash

Originally published December 2009

Starting Soon: The 2020-21 Renovaré Book Club

An inten­tion­al way to read for trans­for­ma­tion not just infor­ma­tion. Runs Sep­tem­ber 2020 through May 2021.

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