• May 26, 2024

A Gospel of Skin: God at the Laundromat

The most spiritual thing I can imagine is the mundane, physical realm. Just as clouds don’t seem to matter much without the container of the sky, I refuse a mysticism that does not fundamentally require attention to life—our life, filled with our garbage and our weather and our sandwiches—in order to exist. I have spent a decade tossing, turning, and raging against the multi-headed monster of organized Christianity, a Hydra of hypocrisy, violence, and scandal. Yet, in the words of a friend, I remain “haunted by transcendence.” Here, in the slurry of earth and spirit, I find my “gospel of skin.”

The word “gospel” means “good news,” and, nowadays, our bags of bones and flesh might be the only one in which I can still believe. Lofty abstractions of morality, goodness, and truth feel at odds with communion, the touching palms of company, the body, and the blood.

In my gospel of skin, proximity replaces the pulpit. The curtain between holy and unholy spaces has been torn, the chasm between podium and pew made irrelevant. To be where the people are is to be in the presence of God—on the street corner, in the cocktail chatter, laughing at fart jokes, and crying in parked cars. After all, Jesus Christ himself healed through the touch of his hands, his spit, and the hem of his garment. If the story is true, it is his spirit-made-bodily that allows us to know God. God made us in their image and then made Godself into ours.

Skin

In my gospel of skin, proximity replaces the pulpit.

Photos by Sarah O’Malley

Recently, on the good suggestion of a friend, I’ve been exploring the faith of my late ancestors, the Celtic peoples of Ireland. Scholars have debated the degree to which this can be proven, but it is believed that, as Christianity entered Ireland in the early Middle Ages and began to mix with the native “heathenism” (a word which originally comes from “wandering of open land,” or, “heath” but which has become synonymous with “pagan”), the Celtic converts to Christianity developed a fundamentally different interpretation of earth-dwelling divinity than many of their Roman counterparts.

While the Roman elite relied on the subjugation of people in order to maintain power, hierarchy, and, ultimately, empire, the Celts perceived inherent dignity, and thus, a shared divinity, among all living things. Their temples were raised from the dirt and their care for the sacred earth mirrored their compassion for one another. Women, in particular, were given greater equality and respect than in Rome’s patriarchal framework. As written by John Philip Newell, author of Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul: Celtic Wisdom for Reawakening to What Our Souls Know and Healing the World, “In Celtic wisdom, the sacred is as present on earth as it is in heaven, as immanent as it is transcendent, as human as it is divine, as physical as it is spiritual.”

In uncovering the curious questioners from whom my blood runs, who find reverence to be simple and accessible, as close as the ground below us, I feel comforted and known. My gospel of skin is also a gospel of dirt. It is a gospel of break rooms. It is a gospel of yardsales. It is a gospel of potlucks. It is a gospel of playgrounds. Because wherever there is life, there is God.

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