Second Sunday of Lent Year A
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Let us pray: O God, you call us to be faithful, trusting that you will guide, comfort, and support us. In life, in death, in life beyond death, you are with us. May these words give assurance of that belief. Amen.
I trust that it is not too presumptuous to state that all of us, as human beings, are an indivisible connection of the physical, the mental, the emotional and the spiritual. Each of these characteristics defines who and what we are, and if we are lacking in any of them, or unhealthy in any of them, then we are not the whole people we could be. Naturally, we need to nurture each of these aspects of being human in order to stay healthy. I'm sure that each of us can name specific things we do in order to keep ourselves healthy in each of these areas, but as I said there is a symbiotic connection such that working on one we boost them all, or facing a deficit in one means we suffer in all. Perhaps the most elusive of these four aspects that combine to define, at least in part, the nature of human life is the last one I mentioned, the spiritual. Is this because there has been a steady increase in the secular nature of western culture? Is this because the obvious failings of organized religion have left many feeling that spirituality is something that at the very least can be ignored or left to be nurtured on an an individual basis. Many people decry that in public education all reference to religion and faith have been scrubbed from the curriculum because of a concern for the multi-faith nature of the Canadian population or because spirituality as taught by organized religion, rather than teaching an openness to the presence of the spiritual aspect of life has been or at least been understood to be narrow, judgemental and out of touch. There are aspects of the truth to each of these concerns, but I continue to feel that in an effort to be rightfully fair in our dealing with the multi-faith presence in the Canadian population and in order not to emphasise the most deleterious aspects of religion, we have ended up deleting something important from the educational process, rather than integrate a focus on spirituality as an important and necessary aspect of life.
While each of the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual aspects are important, we also know that when we are suffering in a particular way in one of them, there is an understandable focus on that particular facet. So, if we are facing a physical challenge it is only normal that we spend our energy, resources and time on trying to deal with the physical challenge. However, as I've already stated, a physical concern is inextricably linked to the other parts of our being. In other words, our mental, emotional and spiritual states are all affected by a physical concern and vice versa.
However, it is also true that each of these four facets of life have their own specific areas of influence. I have always suggested that spiritual questions, or perhaps another way of saying it is that faith questions are occupied in particular with the ultimate questions of life. By this I mean that questions about life itself what it is, why we have it, why it is that we as human beings can even reflect on life, and why it is that physical life is finite. These are what I call the why questions. I think the human race has always been pretty good at getting to the root of the how questions. The amount of knowledge of how is increasing exponentially. Some estimates say that a week's worth of the New York Times contains more information than we had from the previous five thousand years and that the amount of knowledge in the world is doubling every two years.
The important contribution of the spiritual aspect of our nature is to address the why questions. What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? Why are we given minds that think? Why are we given hearts that feel? What is our responsibility to and with other humans?
I also believe that our spiritual nature in this search for meaning, is also connected with a quest for beauty. This is what leads the human spirit to create beautiful music. This is what leads us to search for beauty even in the parts of life that are hard. I was struck this week as I drove from Calgary to a meeting of South Alberta presbytery in Taber, Alberta this week and listened to the litany of concerns coming out of Japan that there, even in the midst of all the terrible pain, agony, grief, hardship and fear, was a need by the current affairs reporters to find some good news stories. This is from the media which is often condemned for offering only bad news, and from a media that necessarily says it must be objective and therefore attemptis to be purposely devoid of reflection on the spiritual aspects of life, but failing at it because there is a deep need in the human psyche to find good news, to find evidence of the presence of the spirit.
Many people would name the birth of a child as one of the deeply spiritual moments in life. As much as preparation can be made during the pregnancy it seems that not until the child is born does it suddenly become apparent to the parents that life has a different purpose. Old concerns are not as strong as they once were and priorities have changed forever. In the same way, inevitable death, feared by most of us, as well as denied, leads us to reflect on the meaning and purpose of life. Brahms like many other great composers, reflected on death and wrote beautiful music. Nicodemus wanted to know how Jesus was able to speak so wisely and surely about the relationship between God and human beings. Jesus likened it to being re-born. Just as priorities change when a child is born, just as the why questions change in order of importance, our own relationship, our own connection with the spirit is like having a new start.
Just as we know that it is important to nurture our physical, emotional and mental aspects of life, to pay attention to them because of the way they contribute to our overall well-being, it is important to nurture our spiritual selves. There are lots of ways that this can be done, but just because there are ways does not mean that we will use them. We know that it is important to care for our physical bodies and that there are lots of different devices and methods to help us do that, but just because they exist does not mean that we make use of them. In the same way, there are ways and methods to nurture our spirits, and strengthen the relationship with have with God and God's spirit. Lent is one of the ways that has been tested over time. It is a time we are offered to consider the why questions of life, to reflect deeply on the meaning of this life we've been given, to consider what there is to know about life beyond our physical life on earth, to invoke the search for beauty which is part of the spiritual life, to find resources in music and the arts to help find, renew, and build our spirits, and to consider the freshness of new birth as a metaphor for the ways in which we can approach the spiritual aspect of life an important and necessary part of life from beginning to end. Comings in and goings out important markers on the spiritual journey, vital signposts on the search for meaning. Life is lived fully when we give all sides of life physical, emotional, mental and spiritual their due. Amen.