Duke ethicist Stanley Hauerwas finds most Christians far too spiritual in the practice of their faith. Christianity “is not a set of beliefs or doctrines one believes in order to be a Christian,” he says, “but rather Christianity is to have one’s body shaped, one’s habits determined, in such a way that the worship of God is unavoidable.” In our embodied life together, the words of our doctrines take on flesh. If one of our orthodox beliefs has no corporeal value, if we cannot come up with a single consequence it has for our embodied life together, then there is good reason to ask why we should bother with it at all. The issue Hauerwas raises is not whether there is any such thing as purely spiritual holiness, but “whether there is anything beside the body that can be sanctified.”
In far far more pungent language, Daniel Berrigan once said, “It all comes down to this: Whose flesh are you touching and why? Whose flesh are you recoiling from and why? Whose flesh are you burning and why?”
Such questions strike below the radar screen of the intellect, where far too many questions of faith are both argued and answered. When I hear people talk about what is wrong with organized religion, or why their mainline churches are failing, I hear about bad music, inept clergy, mean congregations, and preoccupation with institutional maintenance. I almost never hear about the intellectualization of faith, which strikes me as a far greater danger than anything else on the list. In an age of information overload, when a vast variety of media delivers news faster than most of us can digest – when many of us have at least two e-mail addresses, two telephone numbers, and one fax number – the last thing any of us needs is more information about God. We need the practice of incarnation, by which God saves the lives of those whose intellectual assent has turned as dry as dust, who have run frighteningly low on the bread of life, who are dying to know more God in their bodies. Not more about God. More God.
– Barbara Brown Taylor, Altar in the World, p. 44-45
This has hit me hard as I’ve been thinking about it lately. I think I fall to this temptation far too often. God has given me an excitement and veracity when it comes to the intellectual side of life. I like to think about things and question things and ponder over things. But the stark reality that faces me is this: have I exchanged a life with God for a life thinking about God? I’m not sure I can answer it. While I want to categorically deny that this temptation would ever seize me, I do so recognize that an intellectual God is so much safer. It is easier. It is more comfortable. It makes little demands on me. I can spend hours mired in intellectual minutiae that has little, if any, real consequence on my life.
This is not what I want, nor any of the rest of us, really. This is the bread that crumbles between our fingers rather than nourishing the soul. This is salt water that doesn’t quench, but only leaves you thirstier than you were when you began. Yes, I want more God. Nay, I need more God – not just more information about God, about the scripture, about the Spirit. I can’t help but think of a familiar praise chorus from my time in college:
Lord, I want more of You
Living Water rain down on me.
Lord, I need more of You
Living Breath of Life, come and fill me up.
We are hungry, we are hungry
We are hungry for more of You.
Amen. May it be so.