Sunday, Heather and I talked a little about asceticism and the goodness of physicality (which we're really feeling at the moment). It reminded me of this passage from an old journal:

Current popular thought tends to shy away from duality of any kind. But I think there is a duality; and Paul certainly speaks of some sort of flesh/spirit duality in many of his writings. Many have interpreted this to mean physical/contingent is bad, spiritual/eternal is good. But I think that's a mistake. Various passages in Paul's writings (such as Romans 6.16-18,20-22) present it better: sin/death = bad, righteousness/life = good.

The duality is not between the physical and the spiritual but between the real and the unreal, the truth and the lie. When I've written against 'worldliness' I meant to condemn, not the physical world, but our false illusions about the real (and good) world. This falseness is not 'out there'--all reality is good and true. The falseness (sin, lie, worldliness, 'flesh') exists only IN US when we exercise our free will against God.

[Later I found this passage in Evelyn Underhill's Mysticism, which echoes what I'm saying:]
By false desires and false thoughts man has built up for himself a false universe: as a mollusk by the deliberate and persistent absorption of lime and rejection of all else, can build up for itself a hard shell which shuts it from the external world, and only represents in a distorted and unrecognisable form the ocean from which it was obtained. This hard and wholly unnutritious shell, this one-sided secretion of the surface-consciousness, makes as it were a little cave of illusion for each separate soul. ...The world, which we have distorted by identifying it with our own self-regarding arrangements of its elements, has got to reassume for us the character of Reality, of God.
Illusion/Reality: that's the only duality. And it's a duality that can only be overcome through faith...

As an example, I read this in Luke 21 this morning:

"They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. This will be a time for you to bear testimony. Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.

"You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; you will be hated by all for my name's sake.

"But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives."

The persecution, the physical suffering, the isolation of "hated by all" seems like the reality. Yet Jesus says the reality is "not a hair of your head will perish [Gk: be lost]. By your endurance you will gain your lives." How can this be? Can we believe this--see it?

The reality is not this:

More like this (from the Tao Te Ching):
Those who are filled with life
Need not fear tigers and rhinos in the wilds,
Nor wear armor and shields in battle;
The rhinoceros finds no place in them for its horn,
The tiger no place for its claw,
The soldier no place for a weapon,

For death finds no place in them.