Tag Archives: embodiment

How C S Lewis’s understanding of the Incarnation helped him–and helped him counsel others–in suffering


Crucifixion of Christ by Albrecht Altdorfer, 1526

Crucifixion of Christ by Albrecht Altdorfer, 1526 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this second post from the final chapter of my Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis, I open the door to Lewis’s own incarnational spirituality:

The very fact that C S Lewis needed to see Christianity as satisfying not just to his intellect but also to his imagination shows us that he saw our full humanity as important in our faith. He had been taught well in that by the Romantics – Wordsworth, who he listed as one of the writers who most influenced him – George MacDonald – a true romantic who reveled in nature and its sacramental function, pointing to God. These predisposed the post-conversion Lewis to dwell lavishly, as the medieval authors he studied had dwelt, on the wonder of the Incarnation.

The Incarnation and Passion as ways God meets us in our suffering – and met Lewis in his

We will see how that fascination with the Incarnation – the enfleshment of the Creator God as a human being – emerged across his nonfiction and fiction writings. But it also gained a new and powerful meaning for him when he lost the love of his later life, his wife Joy. That Christ shared not only our humanity but our suffering helped Lewis get through that experience of grief: Continue reading

The Virgin Mary and the greatest thing we can learn from medieval Christians


Madonna of humility by Fra Angelico, c. 1430.

Madonna of humility by Fra Angelico, c. 1430. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The final, trumpets-and-cymbals chapter of my Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis explores a theme that I think can most benefit modern Western Christians, if only we grasp it. This is the opening bit, which starts with a biblical figure who modern Protestants regard with some nervousness as a symbol of Roman Catholicism–the Virgin Mary:

I was working at Christianity Today in the early 2000s, as managing editor of Christian History magazine. After getting a few issues under my belt, I hesitantly offered the suggestion that we do an issue on “Mary in the Christian Imagination.” Though the idea met with more support than I had feared (at that distinctively evangelical Protestant magazine), my art director did hazard the prediction that we would lose readers if we did the topic. Imagine my surprise when in the end, not only didn’t we lose any readers (that we knew), but we actually won the Evangelical Press Association’s award that year for best single-topic issue. This told me we’d hit a nerve with our evangelical Protestant readers. Apparently, there’s “something about Mary,” even for the descendants of Protestant fundamentalists. Continue reading

Why we need something like monasticism again today – part I


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Well, I have my computer back, fixed and ready to go again. So, as we cruise down the home stretch of the monasticism chapter from my forthcoming Medieval Wisdom: Explorations with C S Lewis, we come to a few reasons modern Christians would do well to learn from the medieval monastics:

We need something like monasticism because we are physical beings who need a holistic spiritual discipline

Against the stereotypes, Christian asceticism still holds the body to be a good thing – and Benedict’s Rule demonstrates this, for example, in its close attention to the needs of a sick monk, who should be given more food and more sleep, and of course its strong insistence on hospitality to the stranger and the guest.

We’re talking about spiritual dieting here. And diets that work still allow you to eat things you like, but in a more controlled manner. Christian asceticism is spiritual dieting, not spiritual anorexia. Anorexia is a complete construction of food as evil and disgusting, and an aversion to food. Monks did not believe that marriage and procreation (for example) were evil. They believed that by doing without them, they could train themselves toward a higher good. Continue reading

Reclaiming the physical in Christian worship


holy-wounds-devotionHere’s the last bit of the “affective devotion” chapter draft for Getting Medieval with C S Lewis:

Reclaiming the physical

Finally, among the varied aspects of our human nature, our emotions seem especially closely tied with our physical bodies. We use the same words, “feeling” or “being touched,” for the physical senses and for emotional experiences. But reading Margery Kempe’s Book makes me ask: Where has the sense of the spiritual importance of touch or physicality gone in today’s culture? Are these human senses now allowed to communicate anything true or spiritual to us? We have plenty of the visual in our TV- and movie-soaked culture, and even in our churches. But how often do we experience anything spiritually significant through touch? The most intense, ecstatic touch-experiences, those of our sexuality, have been devalued and dehumanized through obsessive attention and being made into the commodities of the impersonal marketplace. I think that like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, Margery’s life of devotion and the whole English mystical tradition can help to draw today’s Christians back to the sort of visible, physical devotion epitomized in the medieval pilgrimage.

In the mid-90s I was giving a lecture on Pentecostalism at an evangelical seminary in New England. I was describing the huge influxes of eager believers, every day, by the busload, to the Azusa Street Revival that launched Pentecostalism in 1906, and again to the modern Toronto Airport Vineyard revival and the Brownsville/Pensacola revivals One student put up his hand and asked, with skepticism in his voice: “Why do Pentecostals and charismatics feel that it’s so important to actually go to the place where a revival is supposedly happening, to ‘bring back’ that revival to their home churches?” Continue reading

Seeing His humanity and worshiping with all of ours – hearts and bodies included


Worshipping guyThe last post looked at the “heart of late medieval heart religion”: devotion to the Passion of Christ. This post asks: How would getting a stronger sense of the humanity of Christ, today, affect the way we worship? This is almost the end of the “affective devotion” chapter of Getting Medieval with C S Lewis:

The desire for a tangible experience of God’s love has not dissipated with the discovery of the atom or the invention of the automobile. Modern Protestantism has given relatively little attention to our imaginative and emotional lives, yet the century just passed saw a dramatic upsurge of charismatic spirituality.

With its devotion to the person of Jesus, its impassioned worship, and its physical experiences of God’s intimate presence (tongues and “slaying in the Spirit”), this movement first sprung at the turn of the 20th century in a poor, multiethnic Los Angeles neighborhood, from a root in Wesleyanism’s continuation of the longstanding Christian “heart religion” tradition. Then at mid-century it reemerged in mainstream Christianity—springing first from the Anglican and Roman Catholic confessions, with their sacramental and historical emphases.

But you don’t have to be a charismatic to awaken your imagination and your senses in devotion to Christ. Continue reading

C S Lewis on mercy and healing, and the paradox of Christian attitudes toward the body


Jesus and AslanNext bit of the “compassionate ministry” chapter of Getting Medieval with C. S. Lewis. Now we turn to Lewis:

How do the “spiritual” and the “physical” dimensions of the gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ – weigh against each other, and finally, paradoxically, cohere? Here’s C. S. Lewis, articulating the importance of physical ministry and mercy like this. His first word on this encourages those convinced of the importance of ministry to people’s bodily health: “God created the Natural – invented it out of His love and artistry – it demands our reverence.”

So far so good, but Lewis continues, “because it is only a creature and not He, it is, from another point of view, of little account. And still more, because Nature, and especially human nature, is fallen it must be corrected and the evil within it must be mortified.” Oh, dear.

There is a balancing act going on here. Our “essence,” like the essence of all created things (according to Genesis) is good. But there is some mortification, some ascetic discipline, required – for we will go running after “the things of the flesh,” no matter how much we understand that God is our ultimate love and ultimate goal. Our bodies, affected by the Fall, are not an unalloyed good.

Thus Christianity treads a middle way. “At first sight,” says Lewis, “nothing seems more obvious than that religious persons should care for the sick; no Christian building, except perhaps a church, is more self-explanatory than a Christian hospital.” Yet what the Christian hospital shows us is a sort of two-sidedness, a paradox, in Christianity.

Let’s say, Lewis suggests, that you had never heard of Christianity, and you set out to observe and decide what sort of religion this was. First, you would see a long history of quite earthy activities. Lewis knew, as Stark has had to re-teach us, that almost every aspect of the European civilization that grew out of the ashes of the Roman empire was built by the Christian church: “agriculture, architecture, laws . . . healing the sick and caring for the poor,” blessing marriage, the arts, philosophy—and he could have added, as we’ve seen, science.

“If our enquirer stopped at this point,” writes Lewis, “he would have no difficulty in classifying Christianity – giving it its place on a map of the ‘great religions.’ Obviously (he would say), this is one of the world-affirming religions like Confucianism or the agricultural religions of the great Mesopotamian city states.”[1] Continue reading

Have you ever thought of what a truck driver goes through to get your Amazon package (etc.) to you?


DRIVER_IN_THE_CAB_OF_A_LARGE_CATTLE_TRUCK_IN_COTTONWOOD_FALLS,_KANSAS,_NEAR_EMPORIA._SUCH_VEHICLES_AND_HORSES_ARE_THE..._-_NARA_-_557044.tifI’d like to share part of a fascinating article (thanks to Drew Cleveland of the Kern Family Foundation for bringing this to my attention) on the special “body knowledge” and skills required of the long-haul truck driver. It’s called “Dignity and the Professionalized Body: Truck Driving in the Age of Instant Gratification” and is by Benjamin H. Snyder. I find it eye-opening, compelling, even moving. It is an excellent specimen of the journalistic species of the “creative nonfiction” genus.

The article sure made me stop and think of the ease with which I hit that “order” button in Amazon.com. I sure don’t think about what the truck driver will quite possibly go through to get that package to me, or indeed the indignities he will suffer as he does so. Here’s a taste of the article, which is from UVA‘s Hedgehog Review. For the whole thing, go here.

3:32 a.m. Over the last hour and a half, we have stopped at three more truck stops and one rest area. They have all been completely full. We pull into another truck stop—a fifth attempt at parking tonight. Yet again, it is full. Alvaro tries to remain optimistic. He turns to me with a wry smile and says, “looks like we’re going to Little Rock, man!” Continue reading