"But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" 1 John 3:17 (KJV)
"But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?" (NASB)
Love hits us in the gut.
Love is like a blow to the stomach, knocking the wind out of you.
So often, "spiritual" is thought of as lofty, cut off from the world and its reality, its problems.
We separate love of God from love of neighbor--or love of enemy, as I wrote in my last post.
But the author of 1 John sees it differently (and I happen to agree). I included the above translations because I think they get to the heart of the matter.
Love of God touches our core.
Being spiritually attuned to God does not occur outside of our bodies.
How could it, when God has made our bodies God's home?
God requires more from those who profess to be "spiritual" than a hermit lifestyle, played out in ivory towers and remote monasteries.
Love of God is love of neighbor.
Love of God is love of enemy.
Love of God does not occur in isolation or seclusion.
Indeed, it cannot be this way. If love is relegated to a select few, or if love only manifests itself as a fullness inside ourselves but never makes its way outside of us, the author lets us know it is a sham.
Love--true, pure love--comes to us from God, the Source of all life and love.
If we accept this love, we know it is not there for hoarding.
Love--God's love--necessitates in us a visceral reaction, a guttural response.
Take for instance, Jesus. Throughout the Gospels, the authors depict Jesus as being "moved with compassion." The same Greek word, splagchnizomai, is used as in 1 John 3:17, meaning "to have the bowels yearn; inward affection and tender mercy [originating] in the intestines."
Jesus, who was God enfleshed, responded to others on a guttural level. He felt this love for others like a blow to his stomach, right in his gut.
The gut, the bowels (when translated more literally) may strike us as an odd residence for God. But this is our center, our core, our solar plexus, if you will.
When the Gospels speaks of Jesus being moved with compassion, it is always followed up by an action--healing the sick, feeding the multitudes.
Seeing another in need, in pain, ought to touch us on a guttural level. If we are truly in touch with God, if we have made a home for God in our gut, this love will play out in our bodies. We will respond viscerally to our brothers and sisters who are suffering.
Love of God cannot be separated from love of one another.
Love of God cannot be isolated to some spiritual realm of our existence, cut off from our lives of interaction and relationship, from our bodies.
God lives in our gut.
But, if I am to be honest, I often don't let life affect me this way.
I don't always feel a blow to my stomach, so strong it causes me to double over, when I see my sisters and brothers in need.
Sure, I feel a tinge of guilt or pity or sympathy.
But do I allow myself to be moved as Jesus was, as the author of 1 John so explicitly depicts?
Does my gut wrench for justice?
Does my heart writhe, the pain alleviated only when I give to another of my own self, my own share?
Perhaps I have done a good job of separating my spirit from my body, convinced that it is the former only that concerns God.
Perhaps I have sought to protect myself from the tragedy and despair that rocks the whole of Creation.
Perhaps I have been too comfortable in my own security.
But my body was meant for more.
"Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?...therefore glorify God in your body." (1 Cor. 6:19, 20b)
God dwells within my body, right at the center of me.
Might this mean that it is God who knocks the wind right out of me?
Or, that it is the God-in-me who reacts so viscerally to another's suffering and need, compelling my body and spirit into action?
Indeed, the spiritual must be always connected, inextricable, from the bodily.
We cannot "shut up our bowels of compassion," or "close our heart" to one in need.
If we are to supply a home to God, in the deepest center of our being, we must leave it open.
Open wide, to allow the love and light of God to fill us.
Open wide, to allow the spirit of God to move us, at the deepest level, right in the gut.
And from our gut, our bowels, our heart of hearts, our center, that love moves us.
God's love moves us, always, from the inside out--out into the world in need of healing, both body and soul.
May I open myself up enough to this love. May I respond to God's push and be moved outward. Amen.