It’s summertime. People are wearing fewer clothes and feeling more and more aware of their bodies (and probably more aware than they want to be of others’ bodies!). In this place of awareness, we will take a moment to think about our bodies and how they relate to our faith and relationship with God and others.
In a recent discussion with Melissa Browning at the Sexuality & Covenant Conference in Atlanta, we were faced with what she called a “Theology of the Body.” Now, to be clear, this is no new theology. John Paul II had pages and pages of papal encyclical to discuss a theology of the body for the Catholic tradition. But hers was a bit more nuanced and definitely differed from JPII.
Here’s a question for you: What role does the body play in theology/faith for you? (Possible Answers: it causes us to sin, it is a mode of worshiping – using body parts like mouths and feet, it is imperfect and diseased and thus holds us back or teaches us new things about ourselves, etc.)
Relevant magazine recently discussed a similar topic this week in an opinion article. Let’s take a quick look at this author’s take on “How spiritual are our bodies?”: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/deeper-walk/features/29481-loving-god-with-all-your-strength
How do we feel about our bodies being more a part of our faith and less a hindrance to it? This author seems to imply that scripture shows how reliant we are on our bodies to even practice worship…
What do you think about our bodies as intertwined with our souls, rather than apart from them? What did the Hebrews think about souls? The Greeks? What do we do with all of this? What about Jesus’ incarnation – his human body? Being full divine and fully human all at once – did that say something about God’s valuing the human body/condition?
Paul, who was famous for struggling against unnecessary desires, just like his Greek contemporaries, still saw the body as integral to the worship and love of God, just as his ancestors before him. For Paul, the body was a temple we should care for.
Melissa Browning says “We experience life from our bodies – it is a lived experience through senses. We are not just minds.” She emphasized what Margaret Farley described as “Getting past the dualism of inspirited bodies and becoming embodied spirits.” She says that really, our bodies and our spirits limit each other – in good ways. We must begin to trust our bodies…
And I might add: love & cherish our bodies, as we are made in the image of God.
But what does this mean – the image of God? I mean, weren’t we always taught that the image of God really was not an image at all – that is was some sort of spiritual likeness? Do we actually LOOK like God, FEEL like God to the touch – do we RESEMBLE God??
Some theologians say that maybe we do – they discuss a striking anthropomorphic depiction of God. There’s not a lot to that scripturally, but it has been thrown out there as humanity has tried to figure out what our bodies have to do with our faith.
Maybe we do look like God…but not exactly that God looks like a human being. Perhaps it’s bigger than that. One theologian who has actively studied centuries of theology and come to his own conclusions, says that “the image of God is not like an image permanently stamped on a coin; it is more like an image reflected in a mirror. That is, human beings are created for life in relationships that mirror or correspond to God’s own life in relationship.”
Hmm. So, we are to live in relationship like God does. I mean, God is Triune – God is in relationship with God the father, son, and spirit, along with humanity & creation, all in self-giving love all the time. Wow. That’s a lot to ask.
But ask is exactly what Jesus did when he commanded us to “Love Your Neighbor As Yourself.” That’s a bold statement. It assumes we love ourselves – because we know our bodies are made in God’s image. It assumes we recognize that we have neighbors who are also created in God’s image. And it means we use our bodies to actively pursue relationships with these neighbors (friends and enemies alike) in order to become more like God-in-relationship.
No, I’m not going to give you a long list of things we should/shouldn’t do to our bodies. We have lots of scripture and modern science to help us sort through that, and it would simply take too long for a single lesson to go over it all. But based on what you know about our bodies and how they should be cared for and used, what are some ideas you have about what you can do this summer to better use and protect your body in service to the Kingdom?
Can you better love your neighbor by going to see them physically? Can you better serve your community by being the “hands & feet” of Christ doing hands-on ministry? (There’s that metaphor again!). What about caring for your body in such a way so that you physically CAN do things for/with Christ? (I’ve quit preaching and gone to meddling…sorry, guys).
Take your time this summer. Care for yourself and others. Yes, vacation weeks and summer camp weeks might be hectic. But most of us have a tad more down time during the summer. The days are long, and we have choices about how to spend our time. Make choices that honor God with your body. Try to integrate your faith and your body more mindfully – you might just be surprised at the grace it can offer both you and those you are called to serve.