July 8, 2010

Sowing to the Spirit

                Paul writes: “If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit”  (Galatians 6:8).  In one compact sentence, the Apostle outlines what the generative Christian life is about.  He sounds much like Jesus when he reminded his followers that life was much more than “what we eat, drink, and put on.”  Obviously, these are important human concerns, but we are created by God with larger purpose in mind.  It has long been the challenge of human beings to find balance between flesh and spirit in their pursuit of living into the image of God.  We are creatures in between, rooted in the earth, yet soaring in imagination—that gift that displays our kinship to God.

                In these days of grieving the death of Douglas, I have thought a great deal about eternal life and the role that the Spirit plays in it.  While there is much mystery that surrounds one’s departure from embodiment in human flesh to one’s unhindered dwelling in God, we know that we cannot describe this without reliance on language about the Spirit.  Our confession that the believer is “absent from the body and yet present with the Lord” is the most radical affirmation of the enduring promise of “sowing to the Spirit.”  Finally the finitude of flesh must be overtaken by life in the Spirit.  Just as the Spirit accompanied Jesus through death to life, so do we trust the Spirit to clothe our loved ones as they “put on” immortality.  It is the ultimate relinquishment to trust God to care for your loved one when you can no longer do so.  I have tried to resist telling God what Douglas most needs now; surely the care of the Holy One gathers up all the unfinished threads of human living.  Ronald Rolheiser observes that all our lives are “unfinished symphonies” (Holy Longing) ; it is life beyond death that allows the fullest flourishing of lives “hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).

                Jürgen Moltmann writes about learning “to keep company with the dead” (The Coming of God, 125).  We do this through our retrospective gratitude and forward-looking hope.  Moltmann reminds us that the dead in Christ are not far from us, for they are in the same Body of Christ as those who live this side of death.  While Baptists do not have the same theology of the saints as our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers, i.e., inviting saints to intercede on our behalf, we should believe in praying with the saints.  Thus, I have been having conversations with some of my theological forebears—those I know who have prayed for Douglas and me along the way—to help show the new guy the ropes. This provides a deep communion in the Body of Christ, which includes those departed and those yet alive.

                Sowing to the Spirit has eternal consequence.  Indeed, we become most present to others and to ourselves in the Spirit.  Acts of compassion and mercy, serving as the presence of Christ to others, is what endures.  For those who do not grow weary in well doing, the Spirit supplies the gift that is our deepest longing--eternal life in the presence of God and the great company of fellow sowers.

                                Molly T. Marshall

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