Poetry & the Arts
Chapter 21 of The Monastery of the Heart begins with something of particular interest to Adventists. Chittister is speaking of a “twelve-runged ladder that leads to God” and says that it is called “the steps of Humility.” She goes on to say that “the interesting thing” is that the Rule encourages monastics to embrace their physical humanity. So many people, for so many centuries, have accepted the Platonic concept of a separate soul that temporarily inhabits a body, that it is often difficult for them to understand how one might consider the acceptance and love of one’s body as an aid to spiritual growth. I am not presuming to speak for Chittister here, but it is possible that this is what she’s thinking.
In contrast, Adventists have said from the beginning that we are one. Our body and breath equal our soul—who we are. It was some years ago that I read in Plato’s Phaedra his argument against his friend Simmias’ idea about the soul—that it is like the music produced by the harp. Break the harp, and the music is no more. Break our bodies, and our soul is no more. Plato proceeded to prove (to his own satisfaction, not mine) that this was a nonsensical idea, but I was struck by it. It’s a really good analogy, I think. The unique music of each soul is known only to God, and can be recreated when that self is recreated. Until then, it only lives as a “memory,” if you will, inside God.
So it’s no confusion to us to read, as Chittister goes on:
is the clay upon which
the Divine Potter
and the heat of life’s kiln
work to shape and glaze
our pliant selves
into vessels of the God-life within.
This is exactly what we, as Adventists, believe, and teach.
Or is it?
is the antidote to the myth
that eats away at the heart
of the spiritual life. . .
It is, as well, an antidote
to an achievement-driven, image-ridden,
that is the hallmark of the modern age.
And, dare I say, the hallmark of at least some faces of our denomination? Chittister says that Benedict’s ladder “links, without apology, both the spiritual and the material dimensions of life and makes them one.” In this, her Adventist brothers and sisters would agree. Then she says that the first step is to “keep ‘the reverence of God always before our eyes’ and never forget it.” Here, again, we would willingly agree.
To realize the presence of God—whatever our own moral state—makes the spiritual life a companionship with God, not God a trophy to be won by perfect adherence to all the rules of life—of which we are obviously perfectly incapable.
Well. At least there’s something we’re perfect at!
Somebody once gave this bit of theology in a nutshell: God is God and I am not.
What else do we need to know?
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