Over the years I have have heard people say, “Be in the world but not of the world.”
It’s said often by some groups of Christians about how they’re supposed to engage the varied distracting, pleasurable activities that claim our attention. When we watch Reality TV, we should watching disapprovingly. Or playing poker, disparaging it while simultaneously betting. Or we shouldn’t like going dancing or having a drink, or laugh too loudly at fart jokes. It sounds as if we’re suppose to be like disembodied spirits, floating over the world, unattached, clean, superior.
I hate that sentiment.
The church has always been ambivalent about such a view, even though it’s easy to hear it’s what scripture is saying. But more often, church teaching insists there’s no way not to be of the world. The poet says, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God”: This is our world. It might not be all there is, but the world is not inherently evil. Granted, the plausibility of our institutions being run by Satan has a poetic, even observable quality (there was one wag who said something like he didn’t believe in God, but he couldn’t understand anyone who didn’t believe in the devil), but the church stands in the world, itself of the world, even if it commends a presence that challenges the ordinary system of arrangements we take for granted.
In other words, we say that the world is incarnate, that even in our materiality we experience and live who God is.
It means that within the atoms, the elements, the cells, within our pulsing hearts and meandering minds it is al infused, engaged with God. Within the music in the world, the sounds from our voices, the work at the edge of our fingertips can bring forth what is good, just, and beautiful. Our eyes light up in understanding; and there is the spirit working.
The church also, however, teaches that there is a deep brokenness within the world; and reminds us the lives we have are fragile. Perhaps this fragility is what forces us to attend to what is meaningful.
Still, those of religious faith are called to take a particular stance while in it. I wonder if part of that stance through a formation of having a practice of going more deeply, a daily spiritual practice of reflection.
One characteristic of God, we say, is that God knows our minds and hearts. She shares and resonates; but our mistake is to think that God ONLY sits where we sit, and only inhabits our own minds. It gives us the tool of understanding how another person sees the world. In the early community that surrounded the Gospel we read last week, it is assumed that within our community we must learn to see and hear how others think, search how they feel, recognize what they love.
Some might say this is the broadening of perspective; the ability to be attuned to your surroundings; understanding how the world impacts us, and how we impact others. The process we offer is like so: times of stillness, of fellowship, and encouragement. We are not overcome by own need to be seen, but allow others to do so.
Perhaps it is this: not to deny the world, to be distracted from it, but to be in the world. To be in the world. To be in the world. That is how we stand, our feet planted, our lives rooted, on and within the deep being of love.