Everything is Spiritual: A Celebration, A Warning
“My grandfather told me once about a vision he'd had when he was not yet sixteen. He had fallen asleep by the fire, worn out from a day helping his father pull stumps. Someone touched him on the shoulder, and when he looked up, there was the Lord, holding out His arms to him, which were bound in chains. My grandfather said, ‘Those irons had rankled right down to His bones.’ He told me that as the saddest fact, and eyed me with the one seraph eye he had, the old grief fresh in it. He said he knew then that he had to come to Kansas and make himself useful to the cause of abolition.”
— From “Gilead,” by Marilynne Robinson
“Everything Is Spiritual” describes how Heaven relates to Earth. In the Bible, Heaven and Earth are separate, but they overlap with each other in surprising ways. Heaven is God’s place, sure, but it’s never as far away as people think. Jacob dreams of Heaven at the top of a ladder. Isaiah is brought there in a vision. A voice calls from Heaven at Jesus’ baptism. John of Patmos watches it descend to Jerusalem at the end of ages. For centuries, Christians have read these things and understood that Heaven is active, interested, and near.
In the quote above, the narrator of “Gilead” remembers a moment when his grandfather became aware of God’s nearness. As a young man in the mid-1800s, the grandfather, tired from work, gets a surprise visit from Heaven. He sees a vision of Christ as a slave and realizes he must dedicate himself to ending slavery. His chores, his weariness, have suddenly turned spiritual: Christ uses them to remind him that others are not free to work for themselves but are suffering in bondage. His burden is light compared to theirs.
This sudden intrusion of Heaven changes his life. He meets and helps the abolitionist rebel John Brown. He joins the Union Army as a chaplain. He is useful in the cause that he believes God has given him. But in doing so, he loses an eye, and the respect of his pacifist son. And, in the end, he becomes an eccentric, lonely old man. Though he still hears God’s voice in everyday situations, those closest to him don’t always like what he hears: “My grandfather never kept anything that was worth giving away, or let us keep it, either, so my mother said. He would take laundry right off the line. She said he was worse than any thief, worse than a house fire. She said she could probably go to any town in the Middle West and see some pair of pants she'd patched walking by in the street.”
Everything is Spiritual, because Heaven is near. Heaven can break through to us in any situation, through any means. This is exciting! It’s also frightening. We may be called to do more than we think is convenient, or fair, or right. True, Everything is Spiritual because God can use anything to speak healing and beauty into our lives. But Everything is Spiritual, too, because God may use circumstances to remind us of painful truths or direct us down difficult paths.
Excitingly, we know that Heaven visited Earth in the form of Jesus. Jesus healed the sick and welcomed the outcast! He also spoke in anger, endured hardship, and made powerful enemies who killed him. Everything is Spiritual, because in any situation, God may bring these facts to us to contemplate, and emulate. God is not limited, and God is not tame. That is the wondrous — and dangerous — truth.
James Davisson is a teacher and a church nerd. He likes board games and making sure his friends are doing okay. James strongly advises you to read "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson as soon as you can.