Do you not know that you are God’s temple?
And that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
For God’s temple is holy and you are that temple.Corinthians 3:16-17
My heart sang as I read this passage during my prayers this week. How incredible is it that I am loved so very much that God’s Spirit is in me? Not to mention that having God within me suggests access to a power that I’ve never really considered myself as having.
One reason why I continue to be so enamored by St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises has been that the imaginative prayer that he teaches has opened up new understandings of Scripture to me. This verse in my younger years I did not hear as an invitation to find rest and freedom in God’s love, but rather, as mandating that I care for my body, and more specifically – my body is a temple so I wasn’t to sully it by having sex. I was so bogged down in fear and shame that I couldn’t hear the incredible love and frankly astounding proposition that God loves me so much that God is within me. Starting from this new place I find freedom.
Another gift of the Spiritual Exercises is that they begin by developing a secure foundation in God’s love and gifts before moving on to more challenging examinations. This particular verse was accompanied by visioning how Spirit imbues every bit of this universe: the dirt, the microbes, the grass, the trees, the worms, the dogs, the giraffes, the rivers, our refrigerators, our thoughts, our money, etc. It was a powerful moment of feeling a connection to every single thing that I can and can’t see.
During the week in class we spoke about the meaning of Imago Dei – the part of the creation story in Genesis 1:1-2:4, in which the Creator speaks us into being in God’s own image and sees that we, all of what Creator made, are good. We forget this so often as we obsess about our “sinfulness.” It is frustrating to me that we don’t start our liturgy from this place of being good, where our Holy Scripture starts from. Because it so often gets lost in our focus on Adam and Eve and an idea of “original sin” that developed, most notably by St. Augustine, but carried forward by western theologians until today. Keeping in mind Scripture starting with the Imago Dei and our inherent goodness, I tend toward an interpretation of Adam and Eve that is not about sin, but a story about two kids maturing and making all the mistakes along the way that we make as human beings as we learn and grow, and sometimes, try to be God. As the story of Cain and Abel and subsequent descendants make all too plain, our decisions can be horrifyingly destructive.
We all are, every day, doing (and not doing) things that hurt others, that hurt God, that hurt creation. And yes, we need to become aware of them and confess these actions (and omissions) and then, with God’s help, do better. But I find when I start from the place of knowing that I am created in God’s image, that I am good, that I am loved just as I am, it is so much easier to allow myself to admit to my shortcomings, and even to the places when I may have done something egregious. When I felt unworthy, doing this kind of examination and admission was a lot harder. It felt like I was just piling more shame on top. Starting from a foundation of knowing that I’m good, just as I am, and loved, not because of what I’ve done (or not done) makes it a lot easier to then admit to the hard parts.
It also makes it easier for me to remember that we are all created in the image of God. That Spirit is in each of us. Which means that each and every person, and all of creation, whether I like you or not, tell me a bit about what God is like if I’m paying attention. So if I want to learn about God, I need to learn about you. For me this means I need to listen as I’d like to be listened to, even to those I disagree with. It also means I need to pay closer attention to creation and the ways in which I interact with it.
So I return to the beginning. With the power of the reminder that God’s Spirit dwells in me. Not as some kind of omnipresent reminder to be perfect, but as a guide. One that, if I pay attention, lovingly shows me the way forward.