Thursday, November 8, 2007
THE LORD IS MEANT FOR THE BODY
'All things are lawful for me' but not all things are helpful. 'All things are lawful for me,' but I will not be enslaved by anything. 'Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food' -- and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, 'the two shall become one.' But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you... ? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
(1 Corinthians 6:12-20, RSV)
One of the great themes of Christian faith is that God himself made his home in a human body. It is tragic and ironic then, that many of us battle so hard to be at home in our bodies. I am body as well as spirit and I dare not think of myself as split apart. And when I live as though I were, I bring into disrepute the very robe that God himself chose to put on. I wonder what went through your mind as you read this well-known passage from Paul? Unfortunately, Christians in the past have often failed to give the body its rightful place. Taken the wrong way, this passage can lead to a terrible distortion of our faith and our humanity. It has often been interpreted to mean that the pleasures of the body -- food, wine, sex, dancing, even sport -- must be denied, because, after all, the body is meant for the Lord.
But Paul's emphasis is twofold: 'The body is meant for the Lord' -- yes, but 'the Lord is meant for the body'. His riches extend to our bodies as well as our spirits. One reason why Paul condemns prostitution is because it is an act that calls for the fragmenting of the self. It is based on the distortion that I must split myself off from my body in order to gain pleasure. But because it involves this splitting up of the person prostitution is a foretaste of hell, not of heaven. For in heaven all things will be united in Christ, including all our parts: body, mind, spirits, emotions, wills. But, because new life has been born in us, we can already have little tastes of this glorious vision of unity.
How much at home are you in your body? It is an important Christian question to ask yourself. It is one that many nonchurch people are taking very seriously. In part, the rise of such fads as jogging, aerobics and health foods represents a concern shared by many of our contemporaries to reclaim the body -- to give it its rightful place as integral to who I am as a person. The less at home I am in my body, the less possible it is for me to be whole and joyful and the less saved I feel.
I am not talking here about the silly tendency in our society to idolise the so-called 'body beautiful'; that tendency is just as much a distortion as the one that despises the body. Both distortions spring from the same source, the fear of death.
Because our bodies are subject to decay and to wounding of all kinds, they give us probably our most immediate sense of the end to which we are all heading. If we fear death, it is unlikely that we can be at home in this fragile flesh. And so we make the mistake of trying to build it up so that it appears invulnerable or we try to ignore it.
Think for a moment of the last time you had a strong sense of being at one or at home in your body. It may have been an experience in the shower or bath. Perhaps you were playing sport, dancing, bushwalking or holding someone.
Have you ever been by yourself at the beach or in a pool and had that experience of slowly easing yourself into the water? You begin to feel that you are at one with the water, perhaps even with the scene itself. It is exhilarating. And one reason why this is so is because it is a foretaste of heaven. For God intends that we, along with 'the whole of creation', will become one in a new kingdom where our present experiences of fragmentation, separation and suffering come to an end; where our bodies will be new bodies, resurrected bodies.
Then we will have harmony between our new bodies and our new selves, between men and women, between nature and humanity, between humanity and God.
Our bodies provide us right now with a marvellous anticipation of the pleasure and fulfilment that will one day be fully ours. 'The Lord is meant for the body,' says Paul. So, 'glorify God in your bodies.'
It was as hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia as it would be to tell you how the fruits of that country taste. Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking-glass. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking-glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real one: yet at the same time they were somehow different -- deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know. The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more. I can't describe it any better than that: if you ever get there you will know what I mean.
C.S. Lewis, from his children's story, The Last Battle
Even the rainbow has a body made of the drizzling rain and is an architecture of glistening atoms built up, built up yet you can't lay your hand on it, nay, nor even your mind.
How fair and pleasant you are, O loved one, delectable maiden! You are stately as a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its branches.
Oh, may your breasts be like clusters of the vine and the scent of your breath like apples, and your kisses like the best wine that goes down smoothly, gliding over lips and teeth. I am my beloved's, and his desire is for me. Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the fields, and lodge in the villages; let us go out early to the vineyards, and see whether the vines have budded, whether the grape blossoms have opened and the pomegranates are in bloom. There I will give you my love.
The mandrakes give forth fragrance, and over our doors are all choice fruits, new as well as old, which I have laid up for you, O my beloved.
Song of Solomon
A colleague has recently described to me an occasion when a West Indian woman in a London flat was told of her husband's death in a street accident. The shock of grief stunned her like a blow; she sank into a corner of the sofa and sat there rigid and unhearing. For a long time her terrible tranced look continued to embarrass the family, friends and officials who came and went. Then the schoolteacher of one of her children, an Englishwoman, called and, seeing how things were, went and sat beside her. Without a word she threw an arm around the tight shoulders, clasping them with her full strength. The white cheek was thrust hard against the brown. Then, as the unrelenting pain seeped through to her, the newcomer's tears began to flow, falling on their two hands linked in the woman's lap. For a long time that is all that was happening.
And then at last the West Indian woman started to sob. Still not a word was spoken and after a little while the visitor got up and went, leaving her contribution to help the family meet its immediate needs.
That is the embrace of God, his kiss of life. That is the embrace of his mission, and of our intercession. And the Holy Spirit is the force in the straining muscles of an arm, the film of sweat between pressed cheeks, the mingled wetness on the backs of clasped hands. He is as close and unobtrusive as that, and as irresistibly strong.
John Taylor, The Go-Between God
O God, you created all things good. Thank you for this flesh -- for its beauty, its strangeness, its fragility. Thank you for the warmth of another's arms, for the power of touching, the wonder of holding and being held.
Help me to experience my body in all its splendour; to care for it as l would care for your dwelling-place; to enjoy it, as l would enjoy your nearness, to keep it fit for the tasks to which you call me.
And when it fails me, when it reminds me of the transience of this present life, when it trips me up and warns me of my mortality, may I then have the grace and wisdom to give you thanks -- thanks for your unseen purposes, for your great drama of redemption that will one day lift all faltering things into newness of life and riches beyond imagining.
O God, who was pleased to dwell in mortal flesh, raise me with your son to new abundant life in my body. May his body, broken for all, preserve me through the change and decay of this present life. May your indwelling spirit bring me the fullness of joy that is mine in this life and in the life to come. Amen.
Still Waters Deep Waters, ed. Rowland Croucher (Albatross/Lion) chapter 16.