Living in a Material World: Lent and Our Bodies

Remember you are soil, and to soil you shall return. Gen. 3:19

The language of “spiritual journey” is commonplace in describing the season of Lent–the 40-day pilgrimage Christians undertake as they trek with Jesus from the wilderness to the garden to the garbage heap of Golgotha and beyond. “Spiritual” in this context, as in almost every other, is so vague as to be not merely unhelpful but an actual obstacle to understanding what it is that Lent through the centuries has called Christians to.

Generally, “spiritual” is meant to signal a concern with matters of the heart or the soul or the deepest self. More pointedly, it almost always springs from–even as it continues to endorse–the tired dualisms of modernity that have divided body from soul, matter from spirit, earth from heaven. This false divide, as Wendell Berry has observed, is “a fracture that runs through the mentality of institutional religion like a geologic fault.”

Interestingly, it is geology (sort of) that can help get us back on track or–forgive the pun–onto solid ground. When we receive the ashes on our foreheads we are marked with a visible sign of our mortality, yes, but we are also reminded of our link to all of creation past, present, and future–to elements both earthly and celestial, to the soil and to the stars. (We could even say: “remember you are stardust, and to stardust you shall return!”).

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