I recently overheard the following observation about various students at a certain liberal arts college:
“What white feminists say: “I am a spiritual entity first and a human body second.” (privilege)
What women of color experience: “I cannot identify as a spiritual being first, no matter how badly I want to, because society puts limits on my identity based on my skin color and ethnicity.” (oppression)
I’ve seen these very insights named and called out several times over the years – in various wordings and in various contexts – not always involving race or gender.
As a Christian each of those perspectives (while they do stem from certain people’s lived experience and perceptions) falls short of who we really are.
They each also buy into the Descartes-ian mind-body split that has resulted in oppressing women, repressing sex, and plundering the earth. So, I’d like to propose the following:
You have heard it said, “We are not humans having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” And, “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey.“And, “You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.”*
but I tell you,
“Humans are embodied, spiritual beings who are having an embodied, spiritual experience. That’s what a human experience is. We are human souls. We are human-spiritual beings.“
… Such views, while no doubt well intended (they do seem to be a morale boost), have resulted in humans thinking that “our real home is in heaven” and thus, we can disregard the earth, abuse its resources, loathe the material world; and even oppress certain fellow humans, and minimize our physicality.
I share this in response to the dualistic – gnosticism that has been so unhelpful over the years. We seem to like/need to think of ourselves as primarily “spiritual” beings who are only accidentally and temporarily earthlings.
I think Christians are at our best when we focus on salvation/wholeness here and now and not think of ourselves as “just passing through.” We’re incarnate (“enfleshed”) – our bodies are essential to us – and that’s a good thing. Our spiritual experiences are natural. We experience Spirit as natural beings (enfleshed spiritual beings/souls) can and do.
What do you think? – and by you I mean the beautifully strong, vulnerable, perfectly imperfect embodied spiritual human being who you are.
(* – commonly, but falsely, attributed to CS Lewis. He would never have said that.)
xx – Roger
Rev. Roger Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist pastor who directs the Wesley Foundation at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and is author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity