Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship & Direction by David G. Brenner was one of the first books I came across during my Holy Spirit directed program on spirituality a few years ago. It was uncovered in a library during a search for books to walk me through understanding my relationships. Every time I read this excerpt I get something even more powerful and new from it. I hope it provides seed for your walk.
Spirituality Grounded in Humanness
The reason I like to describe the goal of the Christian spiritual journey as becoming both whole and holy is that it reminds us that the focus of God’s love and salvation is not some part of us but our whole person. Jesus does not love some immaterial or eternal part of me. He loves me. And Jesus did not die so that some part of me would be saved; He died so that in my whole being I would be made anew. Anything less than this trivializes salvation and fractures human personhood in ways God never intended.
Too often the Christian journey is understood simply in terms of becoming like God. While this is an essential component, if we only emphasize this aspect of it, we are likely to develop a spirituality that deemphasizes our humanity. The goal of the Christian spiritual journey is not to become less human and more divine; it is to become more fully human. Salvation is not to rescue us from our humanity; it is to redeem our humanity.
Tragically, some visions of the Christian spiritual journey have led people to deny entire aspects of their humanity. Some people have rejected their sexuality, others their intellect, emotions or playfulness. All who do so limp along the path to wholeness and holiness. But rather than bring their lameness to God for healing, they tend to wear it as a badge of spiritual honor.
Spirituality not grounded in humanness is no earthly good. Worse, it can actually be dangerous. Spirituality that apparently makes us more like God but fails to make us more genuinely human actually destroys our personhood. If embracing humanness was good enough for Jesus, how can we despise it? To become like Jesus and take on his character, we must – like Him – embrace our humanity and work out our spirituality within it. The authentic journey of Christian spirituality must always involve redemption of our humanity, never its denial or attempted crucifixion.
This draws our attention to the importance and interdependence of knowing both God and self. As argued by John Calvin, there is no deep knowing of God apart from a deep knowing of self and no deep knowing of self apart from a deep knowing of God. Knowing God and knowing self are both necessary for wholeness and holiness.
How tragic it is when a person invests all his or her energy in knowing God and none in genuinely knowing him or herself. And how terrifying when such a person is in a position of leadership or influence. Christian maturity demands that we know God and ourselves, recognizing that deep knowing of each supports deeper knowing of the other.
While holiness emphasizes taking on the character of God, wholeness reminds us that doing so does not make us gods or even angels – it makes us more completely human. St. Irenaeus reminds us that the glory of God is a fully alive human being. God is in the business of making us fully human and fully alive. This is the abundant life promised by Jesus (John 10:10). Our vitality, our genuine fullness of life, points back to God, the author of life. In so doing it gives God glory.
The purpose of salvation is to make whole that which is broken. The Christian spiritual journey settles for nothing less than such wholeness. But genuine wholeness cannot occur apart from holiness. R.C. Sproul noted that the pattern of God’s transforming encounters with humans is always the same. God appears; humans respond with fear because of their sin; God forgives our sins and heals us (holiness and wholeness); God then sends us out to serve him. This means that holiness and wholeness are the interrelated goals of the Christian spiritual journey. Holiness is the goal of the spiritual journey because God is holy and commands that we be holy (Leviticus11:44).
Holiness involves taking on the life and character of a holy God by means of a restored relationship to him. This relationship heals our most fundamental disease – our separation from our Source, our redeemer, the Great Lover of our soul. This relationship is therefore simultaneously the source of our holiness and of our wholeness.
Human beings were designed for intimate relationship with God and cannot find fulfillment of their true and deepest self apart from that relationship. Holiness does not involve the annihilation of our identity with a simple transplant of Gods’ identity. Rather, it involves the transformation of our self, made possible by the work of God’s Spirit within us. Holiness is becoming like the God with whom we live in intimate relationship. It is acquiring his Spirit and allowing spirit to be transformed by Spirit. It is finding and living our life in Christ, and then discovering that Christ’s life and Spirit are our life and spirit. This is the journey of Christian spiritual transformation. This is the process of becoming whole and holy.
Meditation Verse: Leviticus 11:44
I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves about on the ground.