Embodied spirits. Spiritual Formation series, part 11.

We are embodied spirits, after all.

In the western world, we keep these two awfully separate – body and spirit. We tend to view the spirit as eternal, and the body as temporary. But it’s just not that simple. If you tend to believe what Jesus’ friends wrote about what happened to him after he died, as a sign of what will be the common human experience someday, then both our spirits and our bodies will last. Jesus’ body was somehow different, but still very alive. He ate. He could move through walls. In some of the scant stories about Jesus’ time visiting friends after his crucifixion, his friends could recognize him. In others, they could not. Same and different, at once.

Furthermore, we blame and shame our bodies more than we enjoy and wonder at them. We idealize and placate our spirits more than we look them in the eye to know them today.

Here’s the metaphor I’ve been letting hover in my brain today, just to keep me alive and wondering about what it is to be an alive and gorgeous, livered and engorged human today and forever. We live and grow spiritually an awful lot like we live and grow bodily.

1/ We are ignorant. Growth, renewal, and upkeep goes on continuously in our bodies – and all of us have no idea about most of it, proportional to your medical education. But even the most seasoned physicians, humbled by decades of patiently caring for patients, will admit that there is far more going on in any one body than they can deduce. Their diagnostic practice is an educated guessing game at best.

Likewise, God is at work continuously. Continuously giving, continuously intending Good, continuously Loving, continuously attending in Love. Our most epiphanic spiritual insights are the tiniest, most elementary glimpses of the Vast All that God is up to. Isn’t that great?!

2/ We are not in control. The growth, renewal, and upkeep necessary to sustain bodily life goes on not only without our knowledge, but also without our supervision or input. Yes, this goes without saying (if you don’t know about something, how can you be the manager over it?), but it behooves us to acknowledge it because it reminds us that Something Else holds our molecules together. The Laws of Physics and the Rules of Biology and the Inventor of them all. We can make a few small choices every day to encourage the good work of Physics and Biology (more spinach and less cigarettes, more movement and less sedentia), and they really can make a difference. But every body bends, slowly, to gravity and wrinkles and time.

Likewise, we can make a few small choices every day to encourage the good work of God and Love in and around us. But if we think we are immune to apathy and self-imposed-chaos, to Grace and Salvation, we fool ourselves.

3/ Death is essential. Dead skin cells form the outermost layer of the entire body, providing a physical barrier against pathogens. Cells that have lost their ability to regulate their own multiplication (cancerous cells) sense their deficiency and naturally commit suicide. Excess nutrients are passed out of the body, preventing toxic buildup.

Likewise, God plans our spiritual lives. And our spiritual deaths. Every day, God breathes life into our spirits: coffee with a dear friend; a refreshingly vigorous 10 mile, 3100′ elevation gain hike; a darling text of a darling photo of your darling 5-year-old niece; a safe and cool pillow at the end of the day.

And every day, God breathes death into our spirits – perfect opportunities for us to live and Live and LIVE:

Our work turns out to be less fulfilling and more stressful than we’d anticipated – a perfect opportunity for death to bring life. We humble ourselves and go about practicing perseverance, delayed self-gratification, and straining our eyes to see God’s Good today even when every day is a bad day.

Our marriage turns out to be rife with miscommunication, avoidance, and unforgiveness – another perfect opportunity for death to bring more Life. We humble ourselves to learn and practice communication, moving toward each other, and forgiveness.

Our kids turn out to be less respectful, less smart, less talented than we were hoping – the perfect opportunity for death to make us more alive. We humble ourselves to love without conditions and persevere in coming alongside them to become more Loving humans.

I’m sure there is more to this metaphor. Feel free to share your own thoughts below; I’d love to hear them. 🙂 And, since we’ve been watching a lot of Bob Ross at my house lately, I’ll sign off today as he does, “And God bless you, my friend.”