"Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want." - Galatians 5:16-17
Not to put too fine a point on it, but . . . hogwash. Hooey. Balderdash.
The Word became flesh, after all, and that Spirit-filled flesh lived among us, revealing once and for all that human flesh had always been sacred and that Spirit had forever longed to inhabit it.
Paul's absolutist application of ancient Greek dualism—his personal anti-sex bias disguised as doctrine—may not be one of the Bible's infamous "clobber" passages, but his take on spiritual freedom has done just as much to enslave God's flesh-and-Spirit children. It has sent would-be Jesus followers running from Christ's body, the church (and financed the vacation homes of myriad therapists).
But if generations of Christians have preached a false and alienating word about the flesh, the modern church can redeem it. Indeed, we must find new ways to express both God's goodness and the goodness of God's creation.
With his poem "Good Is the Flesh," hymn writer Brian Wren has given us a healing word.
Good is the flesh that the Word has become, it begins. It continues, with images both tender and erotic, before ending with Good is the pleasure of God in our flesh, longing in all, as in Jesus to dwell, glad of embracing and tasting and smell, good is the body, for good and for God, Good is the flesh that the Word has become.
Several years ago our minister of music set the words to melody, and every Advent we sing it as a congregational hymn. Some in the pews may blush, but most church members love it, and more than one 80-something has wept with relief and joy.
Live by the Spirit, indeed—the divinely embodied Spirit.
Spirit of Love, thank you for making your home in my body, and inspire me to share this liberating news.
(You can find various settings of "Good Is the Flesh" online. Or just go directly to my favorite here, for both sheet music and a recording. Happy singing!)
Stillspeaking Small Group Discussion
Vicki Kemper is the Pastor of First Congregational, UCC, of Amherst, Massachusetts.