Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Gap Between the Physical and the Spiritual

Sometimes my readings come together as a fusion of thought. Yancey (whose book is like a like a good cigar that is to be savored one delightful draw at a time, not puffed as though it was a cigarette on a two minute break) writes of the power of harnessing the physical. “Whoever masters the material world,” he writes, “determines future’s fate.”

Our forefathers harnessed the power of horses, then steam and electricity. Today’s harness is nuclear energy and the microchip. The nations who have the capability to control the physical are advanced; those without such capabilities are regulated to “developing countries,” which means less advanced, even backward.

At the same time I’m reading Paul Hiebert’s book on epistemology. I’m familiar with Hiebert's work so this is more review than new thought, but his reasoning on physics and metaphysics coincided with Yancey’s readings. Aristolean thought divides the world into two dimensions, thus dualism postulates the physical and spiritual world. Hiebert makes the argument that the “reductionist” view of only seeing the world in either one of these spheres can be fatal. For the materialist, his world is detrmined by what he/she can possess and control (a microcosm of state control of material). How one looks, what does for a living, authority, what ones possess or strives to hold is the land of the physical. To focus on the “other world,” where one lives life in light of only the spiritual dimension makes one a monk, sadu or perhaps a fundamental zealot. These are the people who are often cited as being so heavnley minded they are of no earthly use.

The key, in both Yancey and Hiebert’s conclusion is recognize the balance (and isn’t that the key to everything?). Hiebert calls it critical tension, others call it holism. The reality is that, though there may be constitutionally a separation of church and state, there is no such thing as separation from the physical and the metaphysical. Humanity operates in the physical, but it’s transitory. We can neither totally harness it, nor are we to make it our all consuming passion. The spritual realm is real, but elusive. Man can seek the One whose voice he has not heard, his hand that he cannot see, but it is a world of conjecture until he leaves the physical.

After my readings this morning I went down stairs to visit my eighty-five year old landlord. Slowly growing weaker, he lamented that soon he will not have the strength to make it to the bathroom and wondered, “Who will clean me when I urinate or mess in my bed? How will I bathe when I stink so bad I cannot bathe myself?” He prays to die, but does not know the God to whom he seeks help. He no longer cares about controlling the physical, instead he longs for the release with a hope there is a spiritual dimension where he will not suffer. I walk away, knowing that his struggle today will not be mine. Because of ambition, vanity, pride, I will serve the material more than the metaphysical. By concentrating on the material I will control my fate. One day I will be like my friend and realize that’s not true at all.