A Fleshy Fellowship: Thoughts on Religion vs. Relationship

Much has been said in recent years about the ever-growing group of people who shuck off traditional religion and identify as “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR.) Assumptions are easily made on every side of the issue, with accusations of everything from vanity to legalism being thrown around. At the center of the issue, however, seems to be the way in which we, as people and as persons, engage with God. The SBNR crowd alleges that an engagement with God is best mediated outside of traditional or organized religion. The SBNR person might claim to engage best with God while canoeing down the river or scaling a mountain.  The Church claims, however, that communion with God is best mediated through the action of the Church as an organized body of believers with a general set of beliefs.

While I’m very sympathetic to the SBNR understanding of communing with God through nature or music (I do both of those things, myself), I find that being spiritual but not religious simply isn’t enough for me. It doesn’t wholly fulfill my need for connection–to God, to others, to myself. It offers me nothing tangible. When I am attuned to nature or to music, I am left filled with warmth and light, but with nothing physical to show for it.

Christianity is an inherently fleshy religion. God comes to us, not as an enlightened idea, a comfortable feeling, or a far-off Creator. God comes to us most powerfully in the Incarnation, where the Creator became the created, God took on flesh and become one of us. God is in all of Creation–rivers, trees, mountains, the sunset, so on–but God does not come to us as any of those things. God comes to us as one of us, as one who knew human weakness, as one who knew human creativity.

The Church, understanding and embracing the physicality of God’s relationship with us, offers us Sacraments to draw us into, strengthen, and sustain our relationship with God-in-Jesus. The Sacraments are not simply ancient rituals, though they are that. They are physical manifestations of God’s grace or favor.

When I was splashed with water in baptism, I was welcomed into the Household of love. When I eat bread and drink wine in the Eucharist, I meet the One for whom my soul longs. When a priest raises her hand to absolve my sins, I am assured in a very real way that my Beloved will love me no matter how much or how often I mess up.

This is the gift of the Church, the gift of organized religion. I meet my God in a very real way. I join along with others who, for centuries before me, have quietly and unassumingly traveled on the Barque of Peter, the Church. I join with the broken and the battered in looking for healing. I bring my questions–and the questions of others–along in the journey for truth, for Truth. I join with other hearts which break over injustice, which long for peace.

This is the gift of the Church, a very real and very fleshy fellowship of grace and favor.

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