thank you tongue for tasting every detail of what I put into my mouth
thank you heart for beating continuously and working hard on my behalf
thank you feet for all the miles, anger, cowardice you travel
thank you arms for giving love, holding love, and groceries and crying babes and resentment and apathy and hope
thank you thighs for your support and movement
thank you breasts for being a source of life, pleasure, and connection
thank you genitalia for being with me and for me -and patient
thank you neck for gracefully supporting my head and mind as it moves and jolts ’bout life
thank you eyes for seeing and seeing and seeing and seeing and being able to shut even when I refuse
thank you buttocks for your strength and nobility
thank you tailbone for alarming me when I have sat too long
thank you elbows for your funny bones that make me curse
thank you tummy for carrying stress and uncertainty and butterflies and ambivalent fat
thank you body for giving us the sense of touch, sight, sound, taste, and smell
thank you God for this sweet, kind, languaged body
This Is My Body, A Temple of the Holy Ghost
The feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray says, “the body is…no longer just a more or less fallen vehicle, but the very site where the spiritual to be cultivated resides.
Some of you may know that I’ve been planning an art exhibit around the notion of body. Consequently I have been engaged in numerous conversations about our bodies as they pertain to body image, eating disorders, sexuality, degradation and reverence. Well, one more conversation happened recently with a four year old boy. I was taking care of him one day and as we were eating I acted out an old teacher telling him to eat his veggies. He interpreted it as a witch, so I became the witch. For a while I spoke like this mainly due to him continuing to ask me to play this role and due to how much I enjoyed acting out this role. We finished eating and I stopped playing the witch. After a few minutes he asked me to do it again. I told him I needed a break because it took a lot of effort to do the voice and get into character. He asked me what “effort” meant and I told him it means using energy and after awhile I get tired. About 30 seconds passed and I moved on from the conversation or so I thought. It was quiet and then he looked up and said, “Just don’t listen to your body.” “Don’t listen to your body.”
What?!? How accurate he was and how normative this behavior is in our culture, to ignore your body, to just not hear it and push through.
We ignore our bodies, senses, needs, desires and find ways to overcome them. We find ways to satiate and indulge what we do not understand about our bodies. We find ways to tame our bodies for fear of what they might do or tell us.
I was talking to someone, I can’t remember whom, but she was telling me about how a woman who had chronic pain went to a massage therapist and as her right thigh was being massaged a whole host of memories flooded her mind. But not in her left thigh.
I know a therapist who works with people who suffer from multiple personality disorder. One of her clients with this disorder has one personality who is allergic to lavender and the rest of the personalities are not.
These short vignettes are telling us something.
Our bodies and minds; our senses and emotions; our hands and feet and thighs and genitals have memories saved. We are working out our salvation not only in our minds, but in our bodies. We are working out our salvation not only in our own bodies, but with each other’s bodies.
I’m going to read some questions:
Will we listen to our bodies? Will we treat them as an integral piece of our worship, our spirituality, our communion with others? Will we see our bodies as this glorious metaphor for what God has radically intended for us as individuals and as a collective?
Will we listen, smell, see, touch, and taste?
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
The Body Is the Lord’s
12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 Food is for the [a]stomach and the [b]stomach is for food, but God will do away with both [c]of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. 14 Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power.
15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! 16 Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.” 17 But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him.
18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the [d]immoral man sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a [e]temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from [f]God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.
The first few verses in this passage are what some of the Corinthian people had been saying to Paul and how Paul responds. They are abbreviated like this:
The Corinthian people say: All things are lawful
Paul responds: Yes, but not all things are beneficial (synonymous with good, profitable—its essence is to build one another up, mutual giving/receiving)
Corinthians: All things are lawful for me
Paul: But I will not be enslaved by anything
C: Food is for the stomach
P: The body is meant for the Lord, not only for our appetites
C: and the stomach for food
P: and the Lord for the body
C: And God will destroy both one and the other
P: And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by God’s power
As we have spent time in 1 Corinthians these past few weeks, a theme has surfaced, the issue of personal freedom, something they deemed as a clear sign of a spiritual life. Some of the Corinthians misconstrued what Paul had said earlier about freedom as well as apply a common philosophical thought in that day. And this thought was dualism. The body was seen as irrelevant and insignificant, just as food was for the stomach. They believed the body and appetite were headed towards destruction. So either indulge the body’s every desire and itch or completely deny it. The soul was the thing to esteem. The soul was headed towards eternity. It was the purest part of a spiritual life. So, since being people of the Spirit as they claimed to be, they assumed they were functioning on a higher plane in which the body and its actions did not affect the soul or spiritual life.
Consequently, there was a good deal of porneia, the Greek word for immorality, specifically prostitution. The Greco-Roman culture was notorious for abandoning baby girls and the common trajectory for them was to end up as temple prostitutes. There was a deficit then in marriageable women, causing men to marry later and they were allowed to have sexual access to slaves, prostitutes, and to each other until age 30. Another reason, for going to temple prostitutes was to seek out divinity in this type of union. In other words it was a form of idolatry, which was a daily experience in Corinth. Idols upon idols spread throughout the city and a normal passerby could not get through her day without seeing some statue. In some ways they are living a paradox: they say the body has no meaning, yet engage it as though it does.
So we have personal freedom and denial of the body operating in this text. Here is where Paul passionately differs:
He says the body is not for porneia, the Greek word for immorality, nor is it for destruction. The body is not just an appetite, otherwise we would be indulging it at any moment or starving it at any moment.
Paul is arguing here not on moral grounds concerning the law or what is right, but on psycho-social-communal grounds. He says, for you are enslaved to this immorality and yet call it freedom. You are deceiving yourself.
The freedom Paul is speaking of is about giving and receiving with our whole bodies. A freedom that is in service to one another, rather than just satisfying a hunger pang. A freedom that hopes and imagines.
Paul uses sexual union as a means to stress this notion of giving and receiving. This union is something terribly intimate, covenantal, and sacred. Paul is passionately advocating our belonging to God, not to a prostitute who does not know us, who has to move to the next available body to have sex with, who gets paid, and who does not recognize our face or name. Even more so our belonging to God radically invites us into a bodily communion with one another. We are temples. I am a temple. You are a temple. How might we revere each other as temples? (example–Flannery O’Conner: Temple 1 and Temple 2)
Paul is not attempting to draw lines in the sand for our lives, but rather remind us about the places in our bodies that have forgotten to glorify God; the places that have shriveled up and forgotten about resurrection; the places we yearn to give our bodies on behalf of those we are in communion with.
What I mean to glorify God in our bodies is to literally make clearer the beauty and wonder of God within us. The joy of ecstasy and orgasm, the delight in tasting each bite of a good, warm meal, sharing intimacy that brings you and the other to tears, knowing and honoring the contours and intricacies of your body and those bodies around you.
Glorifying God in our bodies also means entering into the shame of our bodies, the places we hate and become mastered by or the places we have been harmed and want to forget. If God is for our bodies like Paul said in verse 13: our genitalia, thighs, feet, arms, fingers, calves, necks, heads, hair, eyes, tongues, toes, lips, skin and every other detail then I believe the Holy Ghost whom resides in us, who has seen and felt the resurrection of Jesus, God incarnate, desires healing and true freedom—to freely delight in our bodies in the fullest, communal sense.
How do we serve each other’s bodies? What does a meal mean for someone? What does cleaning a bathtub for a friend to relax her pregnant body in mean for her? What does it mean to say I have been anonymous in my attempt to find freedom and yet enslaved? What does it mean to say I have pursued pleasure without a face or a name? What does it mean to say we have pursued pleasure that hasn’t allowed for our glory or loveliness to be experienced? What does it mean for us to recognize how we use our bodies in absent ways? What does it mean to speak about the harm of our bodies and wonder if our God overcomes death, is it really true for us? What does it mean for our bodies to be good and so wrapped up in our coming salvation?
Will we say, the Lord is for the body? Will we say, our bodies our for the Lord?
Will we listen, smell, see, touch, and taste?