Was Jesus Spiritual?

We don’t hear of him going on a retreat to find himself?

We certainly don’t hear much about his inner life? What we do glimpse of it is nothing like the harmonious psychological balance that is the goal of experiences or practices that we immediately think of under the modern umbrella term spirituality.

A new translation of the New Testament has just been produced by David Bentley Hart, who is one of the most learned, but also most interesting Christian writers on the planet at the moment. One of his avowed intents with his new translation is to bring out the strangeness of the original Greek- we are so used to the beauty of the King James translation and its modern derivatives- that we are often unaware of the jagged, fragmented and earthy nature of the original.

It has all been smoothed over by committees of learned men who have turned the simple prose of fishermen and tent makers into sophisticated and orderly literature.

Even St John, who is often thought of as the best writer of the bunch, is not as smooth as the translators trick us into thinking.

The wedding feast at Cana story, literally goes something like this.

And Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and the disciples were invited to the wedding. And there being a shortage of wine, Jesus’ mother said to him,’ they have haven’t any wine, and Jesus said to her- what’s that got to do with me and you woman.

When we read the other gospels this is even more apparent. Even when the story is like this of a miracle, or a parable or teaching, we read something spare and gritty, not other-worldy.  Jesus is in the midst of the fray, not floating above it. He is eating with friends, literally debating in the public square, confronting politicians and religious leaders, and what he says is packed with emotion. Urgency is more prominent than serenity.

This year we are developing a new Mission Action Plan, and at the core of it the Church Council has decided that there should be an exploration of Christian Spirituality; so throughout this year there will be guest preachers, special events, and opportunities to talk together, to help us to think about what ‘ Christian Spirituality is,’ and why it is important for all of us.

This morning I am just trying to provide some first thoughts about it.

And I have 4 to make this morning.

Firstly that we need to start with Jesus himself as I just have, and keep coming back to him again and again as a reference point.

One really helpful and simple definition of spirituality, that I like is answering the question ‘to what do I commit my life?’

When we contemplate Jesus life and teaching we see someone who centres his life on his relationship with God, his Father- one of the things we think about in the period after Christmas, in the Epiphany, is how Jesus manifested God throughout his life, in the world, as he grew up and became known.

Jesus commits his life and eventually surrenders it to revealing God to the world.

Compassion, deep challenging, healing, life bringing, truth telling are all aspects of how he did that.

His was a life of deep contemplation and action.

One of the first incidents from his adult life that St Mark reports is when he slips away from his disciples in the middle of the night, to go out into the desert to pray. They take an age to find him. I believe this is scene setting rather than a description of a one of event- this is what he did.

But to counter-balance that we read much more about his acts of healing, his parables , and his disputes.

My 2nd reflection is that when we see how Christians have orientated their lives since, one or other of these 2 poles of Jesus Spiritual life- the inner and the outer- have often become pronounced.

An example comes from 2 of the saints that the church has remembered in the last few days.

On Friday we had Wulfstan, bishop of Worcester, who was a Saxon bishop who staid in post when the Normans invaded. He moved in high circles and is remembered for sticking up for his people in the face of the conquest and for one of the earliest attempts to abolish the slave trade.

Yesterday it was Richard Rolle’s turn. He lived in the 14th century

2 quotations will give a flavour of his thoughts.

As far as my study of Scripture goes, I have found that to love Christ above all else will involve three things: warmth and song and sweetness. And these three, as I know from personal experience, cannot exist for long without there being great quiet..

Drawing on Rolle, my third point, which I also alluded to when I mentioned Jesus is that emotion is a vital component of Christian Spirituality.

Action to change the world, deep contemplation of the world and ourselves, and feelings- care, righteous anger, love- are all involved.

My fourth and final reflection.

Christian Spirituality is about both I and us. As individuals we are unique, not just in our character and personality , but  also our experiences,- so one person’s spirituality might be another person’s poison. But we are not alone- we are part of a community too- family, culture and church.

So that simple definition of spirituality I mentioned earlier is not quite adequate. In the context of the Church we ask ourselves, not only ‘ to what do I commit my life,?’ but to what we, as a Christian community, ‘ commit our lives?,’

 

 

 

 

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