Spoiler alert: Not everyone believes in Jesus. (It is pure coincidence that I write these words on the eve of His birth.) But just because someone doesn’t believe in Him doesn’t mean He isn’t real. It’s like gravity—you can believe in it or not as you wish, but your belief/unbelief matters not one whit to its reality. Spiritual truths are the same. They exist whether or not you know of them, believe in them, or follow them. Spiritual truths are universal and exist in some form in every religion. Second spoiler alert: That’s how you know they’re spiritual truths.
Christianity just happens to be particularly good at “types,” meaning it has lots and lots of symbolic representations of its spiritual truths, e.g., Christ is the bread of life; animal (or blood) sacrifice prefigures Christ’s atonement; Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac prefigures God’s sacrifice of His only begotten son; baptism by immersion symbolizes resurrection, etc. As a Christian, you don’t need a better reason to sacrifice than that Christianity is all about sacrifice. Anytime you sacrifice, you are drawing closer to God because God sacrificed for you, and it gives you a tiny glimpse into the meaning of His act.
But what if you’re not Christian? Is there any point to sacrifice? Only if sacrifice is a spiritual truth that transcends Christianity. Well, as it turns out, sacrifice might be the most transcendent spiritual truth we can experience in mortality. Because as the French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience.
It doesn’t matter what you believe or don’t believe—we are part mortal and part immortal. You know it’s true. The poet William Wordsworth knew it was true. His “Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” expresses it perfectly:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,Hath had elsewhere its setting,And cometh from afar:Not in entire forgetfulness,And not in utter nakedness,But trailing clouds of glory do we comeFrom God, who is our home:Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
While on this earth, we galumph about in our clumsy physical bodies, and the most careless among us can virtually obscure any spirit within. But if you’re of a mind to, you can burnish that spirit, make it grow bright and strong even within its mortal confines. The trick is it’s something of a zero-sum game. The physical and the spiritual cannot both dominate. One rules at the expense of the other.
The quickest way to dull your spirit is to engage in one (or more) of the seven deadly sins: gluttony; lust; greed; pride; despair; wrath; vainglory; and sloth. The quickest way to burnish your spirit is to deny your senses of something you desire. It can be food and water for fasting. It can be meat and other luxuries for Lent. It can be speech for a vow of silence. It can be 15 minutes of sleep for daily scripture study or lazy Sunday mornings for religious observance. In each instance, denying our physical selves strengthens our spiritual selves.
The most important thing to remember is that intention is everything. Fasting without a purpose is just going hungry and thirsty. Denying or depriving your senses without a godly focus is just denial and deprivation. It’s the purpose that sanctifies the act. If your intention is to strengthen the spiritual part of you that used to live with God before you were born, hold that thought in your mind and restrain your senses.
photo credit: woailvyou1234567 Man Gains God’s Blessings Because of His Sincerity and Obedience via photopin (license)