Last weekend, at church, our pastor (priest) reminded us that as humans we were not to follow our feelings lest they contaminate God’s hope of our holy spirits. This concept was particularly emphasized during the second reading, in which we were encouraged to not deny the needs of the Spirit for the lust of the flesh.
The Second Reading, Galatians 5:1, 13-18
Brothers and sisters:
For freedom Christ set us free;
so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.
For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters.
But do not use this freedom
as an opportunity for the flesh;
rather, serve one another through love.
For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement,
namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
But if you go on biting and devouring one another,
beware that you are not consumed by one another.
I say, then: live by the Spirit
and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh.
For the flesh has desires against the Spirit,
and the Spirit against the flesh;
these are opposed to each other,
so that you may not do what you want.
But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
[Emphasis added, mocking my lectern book. I did read last Sunday, so I’ve had a bit of time to pontificate this message.]
Searching for Understanding
This Christian – Catholic – guilt tripping view of life is one in which I’ve never been able to reconcile. This view, this sermon that my pastor preached, is the epitome of the hypocrisy of the church. On one hand we are taught that our bodies are temples and they should be treated with the utmost care. On the other hand we are told to deny the flesh any pleasures it seeks.
There is a spectrum here, that I can understand, but it is not oft described. The issue is often preached in a black and white scenario that leaves no room for any flexibility. So, the question begs, “How much is too much?” Or, “How far do we go to define the pleasures of the flesh?”
That is, is a little extra chocolate after dinner time too much? Clearly, too much sex is a bad thing. But, how do couples determine that in a relationship? Following some semblance of a hedonistic lifestyle, and I’ve known a few at varying points in their lives, where following their bliss was the all-consuming thing, and there was no room for anything else.
But, what happens when we don’t follow our bliss? Another thought that is emerging more prevalently today is that we should be following our bliss. We should be following the things that make us happy. We should be making choices that remove us from situations that do not make us a happy. We need to understand that relationships take work, and we should understand that we ought not to bail on everything that gets hard, but why remain in a situation that tortures us daily? The easiest example for me to relate to is a toxic work environment. You’re in a situation with a group of people, some of whom you’ve chosen to work with and others not, and somehow the combination lends itself to a messy pool of gossip, blaming, and ill focus on a common goal. Every day you go home with thoughts of drinking or not wanting to return. Your flesh is screaming for pleasure in this instance. You want healthful relationships. You want to go home with feelings of bliss. The literal scripture, for me, has no place here — it’s too easy to misconstrue and force yourself into situations in which you don’t belong and doesn’t honor the temple that your body should be.
Maybe what was really intended was a message of moderation – scaring us into moderation by decrying the needs of the flesh. A little bit of wine can help the heart, but too much makes you into a drunk. Enough sex to satisfy you and your partner brings you closer together… too much and you’re obsessed. Enough food, eaten enjoyably, keeps you healthy and strong. Too much turns you into a glutton.
I am an adult now dear pastor, and I can’t allow myself to be scared into the guilt-tripped ways of Catholicism that I turned against. Let me rework your message into one of moderation that allows each of us balance in our relationships and the ability to follow our bliss.