The sense of the gospel
It's snowing where I'm writing, at 8500' in a chalet in the Rockies. I'm watching it come down and land on the Pines and Firs that are just on the other side my window. The wind that been howling relentlessly since I arrived Sunday night has finally stopped. I'm drinking a fresh pot of coffee, even though it's 3:30 in the afternoon, something I never do at home. There's a roaring fire in the massive stone fireplace, whose reflection I can see in the window. I can smell the coffee, the cold, the smoke from the burning wood. This is marvelous.
Snow, fire, coffee, trees.... "O taste and see that the Lord is good."
One of the dangers that attends being a Christian is that we run the risk of developing an unhealthy suspicion of the senses, of beauty, of the raw joy that comes from physical sight, and taste, and touch. Different versions of dualism down through the ages bled into the church so that many began to teach that the invisible realm was somehow more important, or more holy, than the physical world. The Stoic influence led to the denial of the senses, and all sorts of ascetic practices arose, many of which have proved harmful, both the to individuals practicing them, and to the testimony of Christ, as believers grew to be characterized as nothing more than a big group of naysayers who despise good food, good architecture, beauty, and sex.
There are many things to say of this, but on this snowy day, I offer two thoughts:
1. Our senses are a gift from God, and things which bring them pleasure are gifts from God as well. God wants us to enjoy our sexuality. The beginning of His reign will be kicked off with a fabulous banquet, including the best wine. One can't read the creation Psalms without realizing that those in the know have their eyes wide open with delight, cherishing the beauty, power, and abundance of creation. The conclusion is that, in the right context (food when we're hungry - sex when we're married - beauty whenever and wherever we see it), we should allow the pleasure that God's gifts give us to be fully enjoyed. Taste! Touch! Feel! See! Listen! Enjoy!
Where we fail to jump in and engage the senses, we run the risk of making the primary goal of our faith that of deprivation, seeing danger around every turn, and reframing our notions of success in our faith life as the degree to which we avoided pleasure. This is not only ugly, but as seen in Col. 2 above, is worthless, and often backfires. Relax, our senses are gifts from God
2. If there's a danger of negating our senses, there's of course, the other danger. There are times and places where it's important to hold our appetites in check because the gifts of our sense are intended to invite us to God, who is inviting us to a full life of service, generosity, and blessing. If I fail to pursue God's invitation to such a life, all I have left are my senses, and a survey of the eating disorders, body image issues, and the emotional and physical carnage that comes from the misuse of sexuality all lead me to believe that the senses make a good friend but a cruel master. Learning when to say yes to opportunities for sense indulgence, and when to say no is a matter of ethics, and a much larger discussion. Too much no is the very Gnosticism that I've warned against. Too much yes and the seeds of destruction mentioned above blossom into full blown fruit.
One last thought - I think our senses play a sustaining role in our lives that we shouldn't underestimate. Bonheoffer found beauty in the smallest hints of creation, even while in prison. A tiny piece of chocolate can give us joy if we have learned to say no at other times, and this joy can restore us, giving us strength to serve and bless. If we go through life failing to see, taste, touch, I believe it will be reflected in barenness of soul, leaving us with less to give to others.
It's still snowing. I think I'll pour another cup, sit by the fire and watch for a minute or two before returning to work.