All of Life Charged with Giving Glory to God

Forget not all His benefits (Ps. 103.2).  “Then your heart will readily be moved to the fear and love of God, so that you repay Him…by dedicating your whole self to God.”  -From the Letter to Nicholas the Solitary

One criticism that has often been leveled at the church fathers (at least in my seminary experience) is that they operate according to a dualist (body/soul) philosophy where the material is perceived to be bad (body) and the immaterial good (mind/soul).  Their proper response is to turn from the world and its sinful desires in order to seek the purity of the inner life; hence, asceticism.

After reading a good bit of Mark the Monk, I don’t believe I can say that anymore.  We hear mention not only of the body and the soul but also of the heart and the mind and the intellect.  It’s not that he doesn’t have two categories; he has more than two!  Maybe Mark lived in a cave during his time as a desert hermit, maybe he didn’t, but it would be foolish to dismiss him (a Saint whose thought has profited many through the ages) as a hairy guy walking desert canyons grunting out the guttural mantra: “body-bad, soul-good”.  Mark deserves more consideration that that.  I think that he may even be trying to do away with this kind of thinking, or at the least, work from within it to push us somewhere else.

The intellect does many good and bad things without the body, whereas the body can do neither good nor evil without the intellect.  This is because the law of freedom applies to what happens before we act. (No Right. By Works)

When you sin, blame your thought, not your action.  For had your intellect not run ahead, your body would not have followed. (On the Spiritual Law)

Here it appears that the body is not the source of the bad things we do. Even our actions (committed by our bodies) are not to be focused on.  Rather, our sinful actions originate first in our thoughts, and, Mark would say, from the attacks of demonic forces.

Further dissolving this idea that the body and mind are completely separate Mark says:

Often our knowledge becomes darkened because we fail to put things into practice.  For when we have totally neglected to practice something, our memory of it will gradually disappear.

This points to a much more integrated anthropology.  Mark shows that our whole selves are involved.

Forget not all His benefits (Ps. 103.2).  “Then your heart will readily be moved to the fear and love of God, so that you repay Him…by dedicating your whole self to God.”  -From the Letter to Nicholas the Solitary

We give our whole selves (not just our minds, not just our bodies) to God.  This is an integrated process, where our thoughts bear upon our bodies and our bodies our thoughts.  He says in order to understand (with our minds) the Scriptures we must put them into practice (with our bodies).  In order to keep from sinning in our bodies, we must constantly (call to mind) the many things that God has done for us and is still doing for us.

This has been Mark’s gift to me:  seeing all of life charged with giving glory to God.  When this happens we neither see our pursuit of holiness and knowledge of God as being completely spiritual (immaterial) or oriented towards simply ‘doing’ all the right things (material). It is not about me off in a corner with God cut off from the world and relationships and all of the great and wonderful things that God has given to me.  Nor is it about me doing all the right things on my own and fixing all the problems of the world at the same time.

Instead, Mark has helped me to see in his distinguishing between these things that there is a balance to be found.  How is it that these disparate parts come together?  They come together in prayer.  Prayer, Mark points out, is the moment when body and soul are united before God.  Before God’s presence our whole selves are united and poured out before Him.  Prayer is the moment when our lives are caught up in the life of the Triune God and found to be (in participation with Christ, through the Spirit, who is sent from the Father) a life that is wholly a life of worship and of thankfulness and of love.

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