The first step on a spiritual path today is a return to a sense of one's own body.—Martha Heyneman
My Body/Your Body
Age is like a prankster. I wake up with a weird pain in my big toe. Later, I bend over easily in my flower garden to pull weeds, but it takes an eternity to straighten up again. In the evening, on my way to bed, I lose my balance and trip over my cat who runs zigzag in front of my feet and end up in the ER with a broken wrist. Despite all my education in aging, a part of me screams at my body: You've got to be kidding me! This isn't the "me" I recognize; this is my mother! Now, I have to give over enormous amounts of time and effort to take care of you -- stretching, exercise, salad spinning -- when before you just seemed to go along for the ride. I can't ignore you anymore!
One thing I have learned as a mind-oriented woman growing old fast is that I can't disregard the body as a second-class citizen. Just the magnificent gymnast Simone Biles has wisely chosen to stop and take time for her mental and emotional well-being, many of us must choose the reverse: get off our back-sides and move!
The body, mind, and soul are all of a piece, and so to nurture our spirituality we need to return to a sense of our own body -- not only as important, but as sacred. As limited and flawed and neglected as our bodies may be, they are nevertheless filled to overflowing with divinity. There comes a point when you come to a screeching halt in front of the undeniable wall of truth that you already knew in your bones: The spiritual life is an embodied life.
I am both drawn and repelled by this notion, as it means that I have to pay attention to my body when I would rather not. My body and I have a history, an adversarial one at times. As I get older, I give my body fewer and fewer "likes" and yet, isn't that one of the great challenges of age? To make peace with the body? As Jonathan Eller says in his book Return to the Sacred, "Make peace with your own body and you will make peace in your life." Perhaps, too, our peace with death and mortality comes with the package.
So, if the body is so great, why doesn't God have a body? But God does have a body! The earth is God's body, or at least part of it. If we are to make peace with this larger divine body in which we "live and move and have our being," then we need to pay attention to the earth: nurture it, and care for it as we do our own bodies.
Just as age can force us to return our attention to our bodies, so the climate crisis compels us to return to the vision of sacred earth that our ancestors and indigenous people understood. The Bible itself offers a world where trees clap their hands and burning bushes speak. Right now, the burning forests are speaking to us in loud and insistent tones, and the message cuts through us like the unwelcome message of a Hebrew prophet: Change your ways—and do it quickly!
So then, we are not just a body, cut off from others and growing weak and aged. We are part of God's own body, intertwined and gorgeous as we shine together in all stages of change. We are part of the trees and the soil and the oceans and the stars. If we could embrace our sacred connection to one another and to earth, we might finally hear God's painful groans echoing through the universe when we abuse our planet.
Ironically, sharing the pain of the world -- God's pain -- is also the way to joy. By expanding our souls to include the pain of God in the suffering of creation, we also open our souls to the joy of God and to the restoration of creation. We discover the beauty of world, and fiercely vow to protect it.
May we wake up to the insistent truth of our embodied life that includes all creation -- and all future bodies yet to populate our planet. We are not individual bodies alone and isolated. We are all part of a larger Body -- a sacred physicality that is meant for joy! So let us return to the body, return to joy.