The Bible and the Bhagavad Gita 27: Spirituality and Materiality


Photo by Moyan Brenn, from Wikimedia Commons. License info:

While I’ve been going slowly through the Bhagavad-Gita, I’ve also been reading Walter Brueggemann’s Materiality as Resistance.

At first glance, Brueggemann’s thesis is almost the opposite of the Gita. He argues that the church has been far too focused on “spirituality,” and should pay more attention to “materiality,” to the things that make a neighborhood: time, place, food, money, and the body. Focusing on the spiritual and the hereafter has allowed the church neglect the importance of the materiality of human existence. The Law, the prophets, and Jesus all return our attention to what is front of us: God is in our neighbor, in the poor, in the community. Something as mundane as managing and sharing physical resources (like food or money) is the activity of God. God reminds us over and over again that scarcity is a myth: God has more than enough for ALL of us to survive.

Brueggemann also reminds us of the way abstract ideas like “systemic racism” are played out in material ways. I think of time wasted because Birmingham doesn’t have adequate public transportation, or time valued only if it is producing consumer goods in our capitalist economy. Place colonized, gentrified, or devalued because of redlining. Food deserts. Money refused in a loan, or confiscated by civil asset forfeiture. The body incarcerated, or subject to police violence, or tokenized, or fetishized.

When Paul says that “We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12), we should remember this spiritual struggle still has a material aspect. The most spiritual among us will be intensely focused on the now. They may be able to experience bliss and unity with God, but they will also feel the suffering of the least and lost.  

The point of the Gita’s metaphysics is not simply to have us attending to “the music of the spheres,” but attending to the breath in meditation, being fully present in the now, and seeing what is truly in front of us. I keep reminding myself as I read that all of Arjuna and Krishna’s dialogue is supposed to be happening in the moments before a great battle.

I think this is why the principle of non-dualism is so important. More than one thing can be true at a time, and the most important truths are almost all paradox: we are separate but one. Sinners yet saints. Alone but never alone. Finite yet infinite, bound by time yet eternal.

And the Kin-dom of God is already here, but not yet present.

It is easy to fall into binary, dualistic perspectives, but spirituality and materiality are two equally important aspects of our existence. Each points to the importance of the other.

Lord of Love, who poured—and continues to pour—yourself into Your Creation: may we never be so heavenly-minded that we are no earthly good

NOTE: Because of the protests around the murder of George Floyd and the heightened consciousness of systemic racism, I’m going to take a brief intermission from the Bible and the Bhagavad-Gita next week. I will spend a few days talking about Drug policy and the Church. Drug policy and criminal justice are some of the main vectors of systemic racism in the United States.

I hope you will stick with these devotionals for this intermission. We’ll return to the Bible and the Bhagavad-Gita on June 15.

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