Dwell with God (Wednesday)
Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.
Wednesday Week 1
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 1 Corinthians 6:19
When I heard this verse quoted in my childhood, the application dripped with guilt. In my imagination, old St. Paul was a prude man shouting in my face warnings of sexual sin. I only have anecdotal evidence for it, but I’d contend that this text is quoted most in books on sexual addiction and sermons on adultery.
But if we move too quickly to behavioral maxims, we miss the beautiful imagery and theological rationale behind caring for our bodies. Our bodies are temples. No, not sinful and fleshy repositories of a soul. No, not dirty prisons. Temples.
Temples, of course, are the domain of gods. The tabernacle/temple elaborated in the Old Testament was, in various accounts, the center of the earth, God’s new Eden, the dwelling place of the King, and the st aging ground out of which the entire earth would be renewed and restored.
Monks and hermits who went out into the desert in the early centuries of the church took this imagery seriously. Their desert vocation was to do the challenging heart work of knowing oneself, of examining motives, and of preparing the heart as the King’s palace. A 4th century monk – St. Macarius – paints a beautiful picture, writing:
Within the heart is an unfathomable depth. There are reception rooms and bedchambers in it, doors and porches, and many offices and passages. In it is the workshop of righteousness and of wickedness. In it is death, in it is life. The heart is but a small vessel; and yet dragons and lions are there, and there likewise are poisonous creatures…rough, uneven paths are there, and gaping chasms. The heart is Christ’s palace…there Christ the King comes to take His rest, with the angels and the spirits of the saints, and He dwells there, walking within it and placing His kingdom there…the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace: all things are there.[i]
Every time I read this passage it takes my breath away. All of that…in me?!
And yet, you and I can live such externalized lives that we miss the opportunity to enter into the depths, explore the passageways, chase the lions, and cultivate beauty. Our busy, frenetic lives find us moving from one task to the next, rarely stopping to assess our health. We remember to change the oil in our cars, change the filters in our water dispensers, and change the bag on our vacuums, but we neglect the work of inner housecleaning. We’re unfamiliar with the vast territory of our hearts.
And so we tinker every now and then with a self-help book, a new behavioral strategy to lose weight or avoid porn, a Lenten fast. Soon enough, though, we’re right back where we started. The cycle goes on, and eventually we feel helpless to change. Some go to therapy. Others give up the process altogether. Many bury their hearts, refusing to feel, to examine, to seek Christ in the innermost places.
If we were sitting together, I’d ask you how you’ve experienced this. I ask this quite a bit, in fact, and get a wide variety of responses. Some tell me that this talk of inner depths is selfish introspection. Others say that Jesus is on his throne in heaven and we should focus upward, not inward. A few talk of bad experiences with a therapist. Others claim a lack of time. Many say, “I’ve never heard anything quite like this before. This could be a beautiful journey!”
Your heart is a temple. God resides there. But there are plenty of obstacles to face on your adventure inward. Dragons, lions, and poisonous creatures are apt metaphors for the many resistances within. Because my early story of faith was filled with influential adults who showed little curiosity for my heart and great interest in my behavior and theological agreement, my inner dragons will sometimes whisper, “This is nonsense Chuck. Nothing to see here. Christ wouldn’t dwell in your sorry heart, anyway.” I’ve needed friends, mentors, counselors, and spiritual directors in various stages of my journey over the last two decades of ‘recovery’ from these poisonous messages to encourage me, challenge me, and mostly remind me that God not only dwells within, but loves me through and through.
What might it be like for you to explore these inner realms? What are the resistances that emerge for you as you consider this temple exploration project? What are the obstacles that impede safe passage within? The journey begins with desire, an earnest desire to explore and a sincere commitment to continue despite the dragon’s opposition. But the good news is this: Christ has already taken up residence, and he’s calling for you, urging you on the journey, and filling you with the spiritual resources you need to make it Home.
Christ the King, that you sit enthroned in my heart – your temple – is a mystery to me. But it’s a mystery worth exploring! I long to be Home with you, but there are many obstacles and resistances in the way. Give me the grace and the courage to journey on, and the ears to hear your voice cheering me on the way. Amen
[i] St. Macarius, Homilies 15:32-33.