Intimacy with Christ is
perhaps the single most worthwhile thing that any person can seek. And, as we are commanded to love God with all of our heart, soul and strength, there are different ways of drawing close as there are different degrees of proximity. For me, the trifecta for such abiding intimacy is worship, prayer, and reading the Bible (in that order) – exponentially increased if I remove myself to a “secluded place” as in Mark 1:35. Those may be obvious spiritual methods; in this post I will describe three surprising activities at the level of the soma (a physical body, which all living things in our universe have) that, for me, foster a subjective feeling of closeness and deeper appreciation of God.
I am not much of a runner. I can’t remember the last time the Nike running app on my iPhone was activated. Running always seemed masochistic to me, and it wasn’t until my wife suggested a Couch-to-5k plan as a potential shoulder-to-shoulder bonding opportunity that I reluctantly began to enjoy the activity.
Besides the eventual endorphin release, putting on my brightly colored running shoes and hitting the pavement brings to mind the many, many analogies found in scripture that compare the Christian life to running a race.
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1).
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.” (1 Corinthians 9:24)
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” (2 Timothy 4:7, ESV).
I also can’t help but think of Olympic athlete Eric Liddell as depicted in the film Chariots of Fire. “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure.”
2. DRINKING WINE
I am also not much of a wine drinker. I dabbled in and enjoyed the fine Pinot Noir that comes out of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. I have been to a few wine tastings. I even read the book, The Billionaire’s Vinegar. Still, nobody would confuse me for an oenophile. If I have any beverage of choice it is coffee, hands down ( I recently identified coffee as one of my core seven life interests). Also, I lived in Asheville, NC – “Beer City, USA” – for many years and was exposed to local craft beers that would make the snobbiest of Belgian monks green with envy. What’s more is that my current day job precludes my consumption of any alcoholic beverages.
But still, drinking wine makes me feel closer to God.
Jesus was a fan of wine. Our Lord and Savior’s first recorded miracle involves transmuting water into wine (John 2). His opponents actually accused him of being a drunkard (Matthew 11:19). This was real wine, not “grape juice” as some have attempted to twist the biblical language to fit human traditions.
Growing up in a very “low church” setting, I did indeed drink store-bought grape juice in a tiny paper cup and eat a cracker for Communion (I can’t bring myself to refer to an ounce of grape juice and a cracker as the Lord’s Supper). I have even heard a former youth pastor joke about offering purple Gatorade and potato chips. Although I am not a proponent of “means of grace” sacramentalism, I have a strong sense that Evangelicalism’s Communion resembles very little the Last Supper that Jesus spent with his disciples in the upper room. In contrast, I have a sense of reverence whenever I visit a Lutheran service and dip my bread into a goblet of wine, feeling the slight alcoholic sting of the “blood of Christ” on my tongue.
What interests me most are the words of Matthew 26:29: “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my father’s kingdom.” There is an actual promise from Jesus to his disciples that he will pop a cork and drink wine with them during his coming kingdom. Drinking a glass of wine makes me remember this promise and look forward to spending time with my God.
3. BIRD WATCHING
What? Did you say bird watching?!? Fifteen years ago I would have ranked bird watching one step above stamp collecting as the most boring and unmanly hobbies of all time. So what changed? First, I saw the Academy Award-nominated documentary Winged Migration. Second, I visited the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. Third, I began to notice interesting birds such as wild turkeys, owls, and even a massive turkey vulture near the places I lived in North Carolina. Those events helped me appreciate the diversity of ‘little feathery animals that fly around’ significantly more. On a fun factor level, bird watching can tap into the same treasure-hunting impulse as letterboxing and geocaching.
More recently, the Campus Pastor at my work has repeatedly commented on the deep impact his mother’s advice had on him as he grew up: “Look at the birds…” She would reference Jesus in Matthew 10:29, “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your father” and Luke 12:24, “Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!”
To combat worry and fear, this boy’s mother would recall the Word and enjoin him to spend time in nature contemplating God’s design and goodness. These memories were so meaningful to this Pastor that if he were to plant a new church he would affix the name Sparrow Ridge to it, out of every possible name one could choose. I too am learning the art of quieting myself and appreciating God’s creation, allowing his General Revelation to speak to me and remind me of my father’s ways.