Bodies Fully Alive

by susan on April 20, 2015

outdoor yogaThis Sunday was the second in a series of conversations about what it means to be FULLY ALIVE in body, soul & mind.  We opened with an imaginative scripture reading of John 20:19-28, the passage where Thomas and the other disciples encounter their risen Lord and are invited to touch his resurrected body.  This week we explored what it means to be fully alive in our bodies.  It was a difficult topic and I was reminded that (1) we seldom if  ever talk about our bodies in church and (2) there is a LOT to say about them.  So, in an effort to keep the conversation going, here is yesterday’s message.  I have no doubt that there is at least one way for each of us to make some changes in how we practice the way of Jesus through our bodies.

Bodies Fully Alive
John 20:19-28

One of the great disservices that the church has done is to convey the message that the physical and the spiritual are two distinct categories.

The spiritual things are the important “God” things, while the physical things are the less important “worldly” things. Rooted in ancient Greek culture, this way of thinking has a name. It’s called “dualism” and it still weaves its way into our thinking and living today.

I heard this message loud & clear this week on the riverwalk. I passed a woman who was yelling/preaching at the top of her lungs. She was pacing back and forth ranting about how bad the world is and how God was going to destroy it all because he was just so disgusted by it. Whether she was mentally unstable or in her right mind, I’m not sure.  Either way, this is a message we hear all too often.

The physical world is evil.
The spiritual realm is where we encounter God.

Bodies fall into the physical category, so bodies are often viewed as temporary, broken & irrelevant to the gospel message.

Perhaps that’s why we in the church so seldom about
body image,
healthy eating,
sexuality,
over-sexualization of bodies, especially young girls and boys or
disabled bodies.

We prefer to talk about “spiritual things”.

So, then what do we do with this passage that clearly tells us that one of the signs of resurrection was Jesus’ body fully alive…talking, walking, breathing, touching and bearing the scars of his suffering?

Can the spiritual and the physical really be so easily separated?

Not if we look to God’s story to guide us.
There we find that the physical and the spiritual are intentionally brought together.

From the beginning of God’s story, we can look back and remember how…
Human beings were created in the image of God, formed from the dust of the earth and filled with life by the breath of God. Their naked bodies roamed free in a garden. They ate directly from the garden, growing and producing their own food. Their bodies were deeply connected to the earth until they begin to disobey God and become ashamed & separated from one another.

We can look back and remember …
the words of the psalmist proclaiming that we are fearfully & wonderfully made, about how God knew us before we were formed in our mother’s wounds.

We can look back and recall…
that God’s chosen way to come to us was through the flesh & blood, body & soul of a man named Jesus. He was born to a woman and he journeyed through all of the childhood, adolescent & adult changes that are part of being human.

And here in these words we heard from the gospel of John earlier, Jesus, God in the flesh is brought back to life in bodily form.

Human bodies have never been irrelevant or inherently bad or divorced from God’s vision of new life in the world.
In fact, they have always been central to it.

So, what does this have to do with us?
How are our bodies a reflection of new life?

If bodies are central to new & abundant life, then for starters, we can treat ALL bodies as gifts from God.

We can pay more attention to what we put into our bodies,
to how we talk about and look at all bodies,
to how we exercise our bodies and to how we allow our bodies to absorb the stress, strain and burden of our emotional pain & worry (we call that emotional eating, but it can also grow into eating disorders, psychosomatic illness and neglect of bodies).

We might also try seeing the beauty in the variety of bodies that walk this planet, not just the ones that culture tells us are worthy of being called beautiful.

If bodies are central to new & abundant life, we can also express God’s love through our bodies.

When Jesus appeared to the disciples, his body was used to express his message. Human touch is a gift we have to offer and in a world where touch has been misused & abused, healthy touch needs to be modeled & re-learned.

Hugging one another with permission
Holding the hand of a person who is hurting – especially a hand
that is not used to being held.
And, within the bounds of a covenant relationship, allowing sexual intimacy to be a good, mutual experience of love between two souls & bodies.

We underestimate the value of human touch & its ability to restore life.

And, finally, if bodies are central to new & abundant life, we could see even our scarred, imperfect and sometimes disabled bodies as more than obstacles to be overcome.

I encountered Lori’s story in an issue of Conspire magazine
When she was 12 years old, her parents divorced. One day, while she was supposed to be in school, her mother boarded a plane with her in tow and they moved across the country. While she was sure he would, her dad never arrived. That’s when she began turning to food for comfort. By the time she was 28, she weighed 350 pounds. She lived alone and other than a desired to follow God (whatever that meant), her life was a blank slate She constantly thought of all that she could accomplish when she lost the weight.

She recalled a specific night when she attended a class at a local university and literally could not find a desk that would accommodate her body. She left in tears and cried the whole ride home. Later that night, somewhere deep down she heard a small voice that began asserting itself. Surely, there is something God can do through me. And, she wondered for the first time – could it be that the one thing the world always saw about me was not the first thing on God’s priority list?

From that moment on, she stopped trying to lost the weight and told concerned family members that she might die younger, but for now she was going to live. She met people, learned things and began teaching. In her 30s, she went back to school and when other students saw her rearranging desks and seats she would laugh through her shame and say “crazy skinny butt desks” out loud.

She worked in a preschool, then later directed a school, then at 40 she took in a homeless 12-year-old girl. By 52 years of age, she had started her own non-profit that brought remedial tutoring to students living in poverty.

Yes, she still dreams of having a healthier, thinner body, but she now knows that the limitations of her body do not have to keep her from being fully alive.

If bodies are central to new & abundant life, we can see even our scarred, imperfect and sometimes & disabled bodies as capable containers for God’s purposes.

We can discover ways to use our bodies within its limitations.
We can get help when our bodies have been abused or mistreated.
We can encourage and accommodate all kinds of bodies in our life together.

New life is not just about spirits, it’s about bodies, too.
It was through flesh and blood that God chose to come to us.
It was a bodily appearance that convinced Thomas to believe.

So, how will you and I allow our bodies to bear evidence of new life?
What will we do? What will we stop doing?
Who will we welcome, embrace and love?
And, what transformation might happen as we do?

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