I am no religious scholar. I know very little about religion, but it seems to me that a common thread in the some of the world’s largest religions is the concept that the physical world isn’t what’s important. Rather, we should concentrate on our spiritual existence; the things that, presumably, last. The adage “you can’t take it with you” comes to mind as a to-the-point paraphrase of this idea.
But is this physical world just a distraction from what really matters? Is it necessarily at odds with the spiritual world? My inclination is that God would not have given us physicality without a reason. I don’t pretend to understand His motivation (even using words like “motivation” and “reason” when I refer to God seems like a presumptuous personification) but I would like to explore the ways in which these two facets of our existence come together.
As I sit here trying to decide which direction to go with this post, I’m looking around at the home I’ve decorated. The wood, the pottery, the jute coffee sacks on my wall, the dusky colors all come together to bring me a measure of peace and fulfillment. I know not everyone likes to decorate, but in general, I think when we choose objects and give them a central place in our lives we’re usually trying to capture some ideal. There is yearning behind our choices. In that way I suppose our physical world spurs and encourages the search for the one thing that really can fulfill us and gives us a tiny glimpse of perfect peace and happiness.
Or maybe the tangible world really has become simply a roadblock. Depending on your belief about the foreknowledge of God (see previous post entitled “Addressing a Root Question”) one might argue that when God gave us physicality, He intended for His creation to live forever in perfect harmony with Him and part of that creation was the physical world. When we made the decision to separate ourselves from God, we tried to use our physical world in ways that it shouldn’t be used. That’s sounding a little cryptic. Let’s see… for example, if we had remained in Eden, we would not have to use nature, or sex, or human creativity as paths to happiness or to be closer to God. We polluted those things. Oh boy, my brain is now straddling a whole bunch of other questions and I’m losing focus. 🙂 Okay, staying en pointe.
Long story short, I think it’s possible we are missing something when we try to overcome our physical world (our desires, our bodies, our surroundings) in favor of the spiritual. Maybe instead we can use it to better understand the divine. That is not to say that it is easy to keep our priorities straight. Many times we do allow our physical world to corrupt us. I think the line between worldly attachment and appreciation or enhancement of our human experience is an incredibly fine one. Admittedly, I don’t know how to walk it. But after all, even heaven is described in a physical way. And if our ultimate symbol of serenity – our paradise – incorporates palpability, maybe we should, too.
What do you think? Any supporting or contradicting scripture welcome!