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Throwing Away Our Holy Things

November 12, 2020


A decade or so ago, an early social media kerfuffle erupted over a woman who was discovered to have posed topless for some publication. Although society had already become increasingly numb to nudity, the moment was deemed noteworthy (and jeer-worthy) because the woman involved had at some point had publicly professed herself a Christian.

Her name is not important now, except to God and the people who love her, but at the time noise was noteworthy enough to show up in my journal, where I’d written: “. . .if you’re going to take off your top for a camera, be prepared (sooner or later) to have to answer for it, both in this world and the next . . . you’ll answer for it because when you claim Christ you choose exile, and therefore will be held to a different standard, entirely, than the world’s.”

In the next world, of course, we will answer to Christ, himself. Jesus is just, but the Gospels repeatedly show us that he is also much more understanding and merciful than we humans are, and we count on that.

Still, he likely will ask us why we—either through public exposure or private indulgences in morally objectionable material—have thrown our pearls before swine.

Or, to put it another way, why we have tossed our Holy Things (in this case our bodies, which are Temples of the Holy Spirit) to the dogs.

It’s worth considering how cheaply we give ourselves away, how thoughtlessly we toss our valuables—not just our bodies but our lives, our thoughts, our images, and the images of those we love—to those who will trash them. This tells others that, for all manner of reasons, we do not fully appreciate our own value. And if we do not, who else is going to?

By value, I mean many things. Back when I was first blogging I had a news-industry friend who would hector me, “Only write if you’re paid for it,” and I understood his meaning: if I was willing to ‘give away’ stuff I’d put real prayer and work into, wasn’t I signaling that I didn’t value my own work, and so neither should anyone else? It was a fair question, but I felt that publishing thoughtful pieces ‘for free’ was a way to demonstrate a rejection of the materialist mindset.

But I’m not really talking about money. I’m talking about how—especially on social media, where we all live and move and increasingly have our being—we thoughtlessly permit the breeching of our boundaries, physical, spiritual, and psychological. We allow ourselves to be encroached upon by others without considering that our natural or learned boundaries are not prisons but safety zones, the places reserved for ourselves and God and those most beloved to us.

Increasingly, rather than holding our dear things close, we are casting them directly into the downward stream of disposable culture where, as Chesterton might say, the dead things flow because “only a living thing can go against it.”

We give away our chastity for a very temporary pleasure that brings with it a strange hollowness; with repeated behavior it can only grow into an aching void.

We give away our sensible reserve, rather than be thought haughty.

We give away our better instincts to kindness, in order to make the cheap joke, though when the snickers are done we must yet listen to our consciences. Everyone else has already scrolled down to the next idea, but our toss-off will stay with us in the stained recesses of our souls.

All are guilty, from time to time, of throwing away our Holy Things, and when we do it, we contribute to the coarsening of the culture, and the hardening of our own hearts.

But, just as I wasn’t talking about money a moment ago, I’m not really talking about our social trip-ups, either, but about my own casting aside of a Holy Thing.

There is an icon before me as I write. It is called Lord, Save Me and it encompasses the whole of Matthew 14:22-31, when Jesus walks on water to meet up with the apostles:

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?”

As someone who has dealt with weight issues for my whole life, yo-yoing through clothes sizes spectacularly, the image of Peter sinking under the weight of his own intellectual doubt, self-awareness, and human fear is eloquent of the near-despair I can sometimes feel about this struggle. There are times when I thank God for my weight problems because they’re a handy “thorn in the flesh,” a visible sin that helps to keep me humble; there is every reason to suspect that if I looked good I might be insufferable.

Most of the time, though, it’s “Lord, save me.” Save me from myself. Save me from the pointless act of trying to fill my own aching void with what will never satisfy. Save me from this ongoing battle.

Studying this icon, I consider how Jesus responds to Peter by teaching him a lesson of great power and depth: that He, the Christ, is the Holiest within the Holy Thing that is creation, and that we too are Holy Things, able to work and walk with him within that swirling, vibrant, energetic, ever-ancient-ever-new Holiness, if only we keep our eyes on the One, ignoring the whirlwinds both exterior and interior that distract us, shake our faith and ultimately sink us.

Thinking about the Holy Thing of creation means thinking about the Holy Thing that is our perfectly designed body. I have for too long tossed my Holy Thing to the dogs of appetite, marketing, impulse, expediency, poorly healed wounds, excuses and recent sloth. I am determined to stop.

God had given us the wisdom
to understand fully the mystery,
the plan he was pleased
to decree in Christ

A plan to be carried out
in Christ, in the fullness of time,
to bring all things into one in him,
in the heavens and on earth. (Ephesians 1:3-9)

It’s a plan of restoration of things into rightness, isn’t it?

Thus, an old battle is being re-engaged with a weapon of new understanding. And each day I pray that Christ be pleased to carry out within me the restoration he has planned for all creation—that I can run the race with my Holy Thing reclaimed, restored, and surrendered in trust, until I am finished, and like a libation poured out.