Volume 16 Number 3
The Material and the Spiritual Need Each Other
01 June 2003

Michael Marshall is the Assistant Bishop of London. This article is taken from a 'Greencoat Forum' given at the IC centre in London earlier this year.

If I were to write an epitaph for this civilization it would be: 'Created to love people and use things, we ended up loving things and using and abusing people.'

Alongside the euphoria of the Millennium-though perhaps we didn't spot it at the time-there was disillusionment and spiritual hunger. The disillusionment was caused because Western affluence was at the expense of increasing world poverty. The spiritual hunger was gnawing away at the entrails of Western society. Something was eating us up!

Spiritual hunger has manifested itself in what has become an addictive society. Computer games and excessive bondage to the Internet have replaced the earlier bondage to TV. Children lose the social skills of communicating and forming relationships and friendships. They cannot communicate with us, and we cannot communicate with them.

We live in an age of disposable products and that includes relationships. Sex has become a product that is accessible, instant and easy. Building a relationship demands effort and love. Yet only relationships can satisfy the human spirit because God is himself a relational being. In the Judeo-Christian tradition we believe that God is seeking a relationship with his people; and they with each other. Hence Jesus said that a fulfilled life is to know the Father-not just to know about the Father but to have a personal relationship with him. Jesus is saying that a fulfilled life is a life in relationship not in isolation.

The Christian tradition contends: God is love. St John wrote: 'He who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.' In Greek and all the languages of the Middle East 'abide' is much more than living with. It is an agricultural word: rooted in. To be rooted and grounded in relationships, in family and society-that is, I believe, the one thing that will feed the human spirit.

Yet how many marriages go adrift because one partner thinks the other partner can totally fulfil them? No one can ever fulfil you. You weren't made to be fulfilled by any other human being. There is no one and nothing that can ultimately satisfy us except God and through him the rest of his creation.

How do we need to change today's culture? I want to look towards something that I call 'a materialistic spirituality'.

Archbishop William Temple said: 'Christianity is of all religions the most materialistic.' We're not angels, we cannot relate to God or to each other in a purely spiritual way. But neither are we simply naked apes with a more developed intellect. Geneticists tell us that we are just one per cent different from the animals who came before us. But that one per cent, I think, is both the problem and the solution for the human race. It accounts for this spiritual quest, this desire to be fulfilled. The Christian does not seek to bypass or split off the material from the spiritual. That's so often the quest in the 'flower power' religions, and means that you end up saying material things don't matter. The point is to bring the material and the spiritual together, thus raising the material into a higher reality, giving it a more permanent significance and meaning.

Why was I created? Not to worship things, to go shopping, to eat food, to get a mortgage, to have 2.4 children. I was created for ecstasy, worship, adoration, wonder, love and praise.

If we were made to worship then we will worship. But when you worship a false god it brings you into servility and bondage.

Money, sex and power-the three obsessions of our age-are the tyrants in an affluent society. They need to be redeemed, rather than being split off in a schizoid view of the universe.

Sex and the body are not intended to be simply chemical. Rather the spiritual, and love itself, raise what is purely chemical to a new and greater significance which in the end can only be expressed in worship, adoration, poetry, art, or music.

The love of money is the root of all evil because money was not made to be loved, but to be used for good ends.

When you've seen through everything for what it is, there are only two alternatives, cynicism or contemplation. A contemplation which is not escapism but sees God in everything, God in the midst, God in the mess, God in the mystery of transformation.

Am I pessimistic about the future? I am if we continue down that road of materialism versus spiritualism, which will ultimately degenerate into naked secularism. That's where we are at the moment. There is this yet more excellent way of holding the two together, holding the spiritual quest but seeking it through material responsibility, through a new scale of values in our society, knowing the worth-ship of each other as well as of other things. A sacramental spirituality.
Michael Marshall

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