During the early part of the last century, there was a French Jesuit priest by the name of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. He was the philosopher who said, “We are not human beings trying to have a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings trying to have a human experience.” Bless his heart.
It’s a really cool saying, but I’m not totally sure it means anything. The fact is we’re both. We’re spiritual beings, and we’re human beings. We exist as humans, so we will have the human experience. We’re also spiritual, so we’ll have spiritual experiences as well.
“We are consumed with the physical.”
It seems to me, however, that we are usually consumed with the physical experience. We taste, feel, and satisfy as many human desires as we can. This normally comes immediately after we’ve satisfied any human needs we have.
If we are really sensitive to our spirituality, we go after the spiritual side of things. From my perspective, however, that doesn’t happen nearly as much as it should. Being one of those odd creatures called the Christian Pastor, I am (of course) biased. Still, I don’t think I’m alone on this. Many people outside of the realm of the clergy seek to satisfy the spiritual longings within themselves. What a lot of us probably don’t realize is how naturally (or should I say supernaturally) much of this happens. Day-to-day experiences and circumstances can lead us into the spiritual life depending on our responses to them.
Take Mary and Joseph for example. They were two, run-of-the-mill, Jewish folks living out the final months of their betrothal. An angel visits one of them—the other has a dream about an angel. Their responses changed everything.
Think of their circumstances: in betrothal about to be married, she discovers she’s pregnant (while a virgin), she has to tell Joseph, he decides to forego the (then legal) stoning and divorce her. Things were turning sour quite quickly.
An angel tells Mary the baby is from God’s Holy Spirit. Joseph doesn’t believe her until he has a dream in which another angel tells him it’s okay to marry her. Just name the baby Jesus (meaning God saves) because he’s going to save the world.
“I might chalk it up to the pizza.”
Now it’s their turn. They can believe God (and the angels), or they can listen to their own human experience. That experience tells them this whole scenario is going to be a very bad scene. They could avoid all the unpleasantries they were about to endure, or they could do it God’s way and enhance their spiritual lives. Tough choice.
Apparently, they made the right one and chose to marry and carry Jesus to full term. They suffered for it, but they became the earthly parents of God Almighty.
Frankly, if an angel spoke to me in a dream, I think I might chalk it up to the pizza I ate before I went to bed. I’m glad Joseph was a bit more in tune with the spiritual than me for all our sakes.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]