Tuesday, May 22, 2012

God's Skin

In addition to weekly assigned readings, my spiritual direction class last year required us to read two books. One of them, Ronald Rolheiser's The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality, is one of the best books on spirituality I've ever read.

Rolheiser defines "spirituality" as desire––a desire to connect with God in a deep, meaningful way. Spiritual fire burns within all of us, he notes, and what we choose to do with that fire––how we choose to channel it––is the essence of our spirituality.

Spirituality is a given. We all have it. In fact, more than that, we are our spirituality, in a very real way. We don't have a soul, Rolheiser claims––we are a soul, a soul that constantly generates energy and integrates us into wholeness.

The function of a healthy soul, he says, is twofold:
  1. To generate fire, energizing us with a passion for life and love; and 
  2. To integrate us into wholeness, "giving us a sense of who we are, where we came from, where we are going, and what sense there is in all of this." 
Rolheiser spends a lot of time talking about this passion for God that undergirds all spirituality. Depression is a sign of not enough of this energy, he says; restlessness is a sign of too much. The key is learning how to manage our spiritual energy so it's in an appropriate balance.

This is where Christian spirituality comes in––it gives us a means by which we can channel our divine energy in a positive direction, toward wholeness of self. A complete Christian spirituality, according to Rolheiser, has four elements, all four of which were modeled for us by Jesus:
  • Private prayer and morality;
  • A concern for social justice;
  • Mellowness of heart and spirit; and
  • Community 

These four elements constitute the essence of Christian spirituality. They are the essence of Christian discipleship. They help us come together as the body of Christ, not just in a metaphorical sense, but in a literal sense. 

Because the body of Christ, according to Rolheiser, is not just a mystical reality, but a real one. So, when we come together in community, we literally become the living incarnation of Jesus Christ––God incarnate. 

Incarnation, in fact, is what differentiates Christian spirituality from non-Christian spirituality. Christian spirituality brings a transcendent God down to earth. '

Or, as Rolheiser puts it, with Christian spirituality, God has some skin.

What does this mean to us, practically speaking? It means that we are called to live out our faith in very tangible ways. If we use our divine energy to pray for a close friend, for example, but we do not call our friend or send him a note to see how he's doing and to let him know that we prayed for him, then how will that prayer ever touch him? 

The Apostle Paul explains the essence of Christian spirituality beautifully in his letter to the Romans:
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;  love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.  Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord (Romans 12:9-10) 
For, as he reminds us:
In one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another (Romans 12:4-5).
God works in and through us, in very tangible ways. We are, quite literally, God's hands in the world. We are God incarnate, as the body of Christ. 

We are, in short, God's skin.


  1. Thanks for recommending this book, Nancy! I had not heard of it, but will be getting it now. I think the hardest of the four elements to a complete Christian spirituality, for me, is community. I am a part of a lot of groups (usually in meetings) and I am a 'leader' of a community of faith, but I don't truly have a spiritual community I can be a part of on a regular basis.

  2. Hi, Thom. Just checking in to see if you ever got around to checking out the book. I'd love to hear your thoughts sometime if you did.