Not of Human Origin

Reflection for the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time by FAN Director of Franciscan Earth Corps, Rhett Engelking

This reflection was originally posted in our May 30th Newsletter

There is a curious rhyming in Sunday’s scriptures where both Elijah and Jesus are reviving Not of Human Originthe sons of widows. In the story of Elijah, the phrase “let the life breath return to the body of this child” is used to highlight the lack of spirit in his body. This rhyming also recalls the story in Genesis where God’s son Adam received the “breath of life” and what was once material dust became a living being. “Ruah”(a word that even in its pronunciation evokes a breath) is the feminine Hebrew word for that breath of life that animates even the dust of the ground.  How endlessly meaningful it is when we reflect on how the spirit, which gives us life is divine? Even more profound is a recognition that what is human may not entirely be material.  Paul recognizes this profundity in his message to the Galatians: he tried to persecute and destroy the Church of God only to find it was immaterial and incapable of destruction.

As members of the Church of God, it can be difficult to imagine our church without some kind of institution or measurable structure to point to (especially because our structures are so beautiful). Our mind is comforted by what is material, even when we speak of spiritual things. In a series of experiments in 1901, Dr. Duncan MacDougall weighed six terminal tuberculosis patients in an old age home. The patients were placed on an industrialized scale and it was recorded to within 2/10ths of an ounce that upon dying, each of the patients’ bodies lost 21 grams. Due to the stark consistency of weight loss in all of his observations, Dr. MacDougall pronounced that he had discovered the weight of the soul. The findings seem to confirm what so many of us expect to occur at the moment of dying that it is comforting to imagine that each of us carries 21 grams of divinity that will not remain with our corpse. We want some thing we can possess, but nothing seems more difficult to possess than the breath of life.

The reassurance that there is a part of us that always refuses to die with our body is certainly in keeping with an American ethos that fights death with death. When our loved ones are dying from cancer, our doctors are ready to visit death upon cancer cells, and when terrorists kill innocent citizens, our leaders visit a war on terror upon their countries. Many of us take comfort in knowing that in our violent world, when we are threatened with death, there is a proportionate (or even disproportionate) counter-threat of death.  We are dust and to dust we shall return, so understandably, it is only human to expect that abhorrent crimes of terrorists and despots should be met with death. One might call it the Gospel of Vengeance. The Gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that “God has visited his people” and his visit has brought life, yet still we fear death and accept vengeance as an inevitable conclusion. Paul reminds us that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is “not of human origin,” and the spirit contained within can not be given or received like some material possession. Rather, the same divine breath of life that delivers the Gospel possesses us. The Sufi poet Hafiz wrote, “I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’s breath moves through. Listen to this music!” To animate what is dead in others and create structural change, we must see ourselves as part of the instrument that is the Church of God; an instrument of peace.

Rhett Engelking
FAN Director of Franciscan Earth Corps

Published in: on May 31, 2016 at 10:20 am  Leave a Comment  

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