When Mohammed made his followers kneel five times a day then made it a requisite for Muslims, it was a brilliant strategy. A following of 40, mostly his relatives, ballooned to hundred and would soon take Mecca than half of Europe; a family startup became a global movement. That discipline made intimacy with God available to everyone and anywhere, anyone can kneel and you can kneel anywhere.
That physical-spiritual discipline offered greater meaningfulness to life than the Arabic paganism they were born into. Pagans lived in fear of their household gods, so much so they did not want to think about them much. When disease broke out or enemies were encamped outside of the gates, they made sacrifices to their stern gods to stem their wrath. Ironically, though their gods were physical, made of stones or wood, they related to them in an aloof way. Though their gods occupied a corner of their hovel or a room of their mansion, they did not occupy the people’s hearts. Their relationship to these material gods were non-physical. The idols with their stone carved bodies were more like irascible spirits whose tantrums needed placation.
Mohammed had the Arabs trash the idols, use the wood for fire, and said God took no physical form. But he also knew that man cannot be spiritual without being physical, so devotion to the pure spiritual being was done physically. This was not a novel idea. He picked it up from Jewish merchants, seeing them pray three times a day. It was what maintained the Jewish identity though they were landless and without government for centuries.
Islam extended that physicality. Not only did they increase the prayer from three to five, they also took the presence of God as a political state in this physical world. The Caliphate became a necessity, and how you traced that physical lineage to Mohammed became such a serious matter it has led to the schism that leads to Muslims declaring jihad against each other: Sunnis and Shiites. ISIS is a tragic embodiment of this idea to fanatic extreme. The work of God and the work of man is confounded. The Kingdom of God must be won with a sword. The body has consumed the spirit.
Christ slapped the hand of Peter when he reached for his sword. Christ did not want him to confuse God’s Kingdom with the kingdoms of this world. We cannot force it.
Though the Kingdom is not of this world, it is in this world. The Kingdom of God is not won by swords, but it is revealed in services that are physical.
-Lord, when did we give you water?
-When you gave water to the thirsty, when you visited me in prison.
There is no bodiless spirit, so their is no bodiless spirituality. If the extremes of Islam is danger of subsuming the spirit in the body, then the danger of American Christianity is the subsuming of the body in the spirit. We think we can be spiritual without getting out hands dirty. You can pray however you want, you can praise sitting down and you can love God without ever washing the dirtied feet of a homeless. We think our main spirituality is what we do with our mind and in our mind. We have an atrophied Christianity.
We don’t feel the need to visit prisons because well, we heard a good sermon, our mind is satisfied, we have done our spiritual duty. Perhaps our visits to prison start with us getting on our knees. Not five times a day, but three times a day is a start, a practice we can take from our Jewish heritage, the likes of Daniel but also Jesus, Peter, and Paul. We should not practice it out of fear and turn it into a new way of justification, but with the joy of discipline as when we are learning an instrument we always wanted to play. We should do it with the same need as much as we eat three meals a day and don’t think that it is legalistic or tedious. We eat physical food because this body needs it. We kneel because our spirit needs to pray, and our spirit needs our body to take a posture of prayer.