The Hijacking of Christianity, Part 2
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. Matthew 23:23
Last week I named intellectual Christianity as a likely precursor to Churchianity in that it turned many common practices of Christianity into intellectual exercises more than fully embodied, transformational experiences. In other words, we in the Christian West have tended more towards thinking about Christianity than embodying Christianity. It requires significantly less of us to think about something than to become it. The sacrifice is minimal, often no more than an hour or so on a Sunday morning. I remember as a child how difficult it was to sit still on the hard pews and listen to the sermon, scripture, and prayers, not to mention the expectation to act interested and engaged. It is even hard as an adult. That the expectation of faithful church membership for many of us is to sit quietly and listen is a sign that our religion has become something alien to the rest of life, which is to say it has become unnatural and non-participative.
We are obsessed with thinking about things and, indeed, our intellectual understanding of something has become the gold standard for knowing it. We have lost sight of the other centers of intelligence that make up who we are – primarily the heart and body centers. Our heart center births feelings, emotions, passions, and relational intelligence. The body center births movement, muscle memory, and intuition. Our five senses – sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste – feed information into our various centers of intelligence and each center processes the information in its own unique way. The intellectual center is not only the slowest of the three to respond, but it is also capable of processing only a fraction of the amount of information coming to it than the other centers. This can be witnessed by how quickly our foot hits the brake before our brain realizes that another car has pulled in front of us.
Our intellect is always a step behind the other centers. Most significantly, the intellect does not experience directly. The intellect describes what just happened so it always lags behind reality. The heart and body centers experience what is happening now. The intellect analyzes and judges what has happened, while the body and heart engage with what is happening. The intellect cannot be centered in the present moment, only the heart and body can do that. Thus, intellectual Christianity is incapable of perceiving God in the moment, which is unfortunate since the present moment is the only place we can have an encounter with God. And this is the core dilemma of much of Churchianity. It thrives in an intellectual environment because non-intellectually converted people threaten and often abandon the institution of the church. We witness this with Jesus in his criticisms of the religious leaders and misguided practices of his day. It got him killed.
The significance of the move toward intellectualizing Christianity, then, is that our relationship with God has become more of something we think about and describe than about something we allow to sink in and remake us anew. Our propensity toward teaching and understanding the Bible literally is a manifestation of attempting to be reborn in our heads without changing our hearts or bodies.
What are some non-intellectual worship elements that speak directly to the heart and body but have been removed or minimized by many Christian churches today? They include the use of incense; extended periods of silence; dance and other bodily movements; the incorporation of art, poetry, and drama into worship; chanting; meditative walking; and many more. Music is a key element in most worship services and speaks to the heart and body, but many churches discourage those who try to move with the music. In my church experiences, anyone who would dare stand and move as the Spirit moves in the music would be frowned upon. That is not the case in many black churches or Indigenous Peoples’ sacred ceremonies. There the music flows freely from the musicians to and through the bodies of the worshippers. It is bodily worship and defies intellectual explanation. It is an experience, not a description. Our heart and body centers have no time for or patience with descriptions. They are focused on the now; our intellect focuses on the then.
In each of the four Gospels, as well as in the Old Testament, some variation of this command is written: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. It is a repeating caution against worshipping only with our minds.
This is the 7th in the series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at email@example.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.