Chapter 8 of Romans is one of the most powerful and instructive writings in St. Paul’s letters. In these (almost) forty verses Paul no longer circles around the Christ-life available to us through Christ’s death and resurrection, but comes to the heart of the matter as he focuses on our life in the Spirit. The spiritual endeavor. Our spirituality.
That the spirituality Paul writes about is life-giving means to me that this is a creative spirituality. The task of a creative spirituality is to discover who we are, whose we are. The spirit is life itself. But often who we are is wounded. In Christ we have a new identity, an identity via the understanding of the meaning of suffering, where not even death can deter the divine possibility in our lives.
We know that life is fragile. We are reminded daily of just how fragile and fleeting our lives can be. Like creation itself life carries within it its own vulnerabilities. It has a power to wash us ashore, leaving us wearied and wondering before it. We can never fully imagine, grasp or set in stone the changing splendor of life, each day’s newness, just as we can never shore our hearts up against the suffering that also comes there. The search for meaning is always a search to make sense of that which is often senseless. Holy Week becomes then an opportunity to enter into our vulnerability. To lay our hurts and sufferings at the foot of the cross, so that the God without stretched arms might turn/transform everything to the good.
We are practiced to celebrate life and conditioned to shun its suffering. And yet, we see the unrelenting, indomitable spirit of humanity grappling with suffering and evil like Job in each new age. In Christ’s death and in his raising back to life, we triumph through the trials by the power of him who loves us. Love is a power stronger than death. Paul knows this. Paul has experienced this. I want to keep reminding myself of this.
For Christ’s love for me is more powerful than anything. Those words ring across continents, cultures and eons. In Paul’s letters we come to understand the sacred design present in the Spirit of Christ as the ever-available source of new life within us, the god-place, our sacred centers within as our truest, deepest, constant and most faith-filled self, ever emerging and becoming even in the midst of the void and chaos of this life, even in death. For in Christ’s resurrection we know that death is not the end. It is only the beginning of our life in the Spirit that is human, enfleshed, our souls, spirits, psyches embodied in the temples that we are.
In the Christ-life we become one with God (justified) who is continually in the process of bringing all things, the created world and the creature world, into his life, his embrace, his kingdom. It is the gathering grace, the generative love of God for his world, for us as his children, who have become sisters and brothers of Christ.
Paul includes all of creation that is in the process of groaning in one great act of giving birth, to fulfill the sacred design that God set in place in the beginning. We are reminded that the essential human gift was not lost when we left the garden. In the Spirit of Christ it continues in complete, unhampered choice, in the freedom to choose oneself, to become oneself and to choose God. A presence, yes. A meddler, no. The final gift of creation, the freedom to name oneself, to be oneself, no matter what external contingencies prevail against us. This is the meaning and the message, the promise going out from the first pages of Genesis, culminating in the writings of St. Paul who too would remind us of one unrivaled truth: We make our way in the freedom of the Spirit through suffering and loss to ourselves and to God. And as we do the world opens to us, like a tomb giving forth the lifeless, finding us as we find ourselves recreated in image and likeness, now the likeness of Christ, as we are endowed anew with the awareness that we remain children of God.