You can have a religion without concern for creation or the physical world – but it wouldn’t be Christianity. For us, our bodies – yours and mine – are intimately connected to our soul and faith, spirituality and divinity.
Whether it’s the intimacy of sex, the sacredness of death or the joy of good meal with friends at table – our bodies are the intermediaries of our soul. Most of us know how important our bodies are; a fact easy to forget. Our urban context abstracts and removes us from our bodies.
- From our food sources
- Families who we connect to over long distances via skype and social media
- Human community and touch stretched across our vast urban context.
- All of this is hard enough, but when the main reason you connect at all is faith…which is itself wildly abstract – dealing with things in the invisible realm
All of which I think highlights the importance yet again of the body, understanding that we are a bodied creation.
This week in the Huffington Post there was an article about the importance of body health and in particular gut health for our emotional wellbeing. This psychosomatic relationship between body and emotions and mental health – all of which is so related to the soul and spiritual health. In particular this article – The Surprising Link Between Gut Bacteria and Anxiety – was talking about how important bacteria is for our health –these creatures, these living things, organisms – for mental health. Our gut is were serotonin melatonin are made – chemicals essential in regulating our brain synapsis.
Such a symbiotic relationship signals the importance of the body but also the relationship between the body and soul. We are who we are because of our symbiotic relationships – the give and take of our creaturely-ness, where 1+1=20.
But as participants in the Judeo-Christian religion we don’t need the Huffington Post to tell us how important our bodies are as homo sapiens sapiens. We don’t even need stories like Michael brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner to teach us how important the black body is – or perhaps how neglected it is. Right, these stories, these bodied stories of starvation and dislocation that come to us from Syria or the Central African Republic, or police brutality from the United States… all call to mind the importance of the body. But we don’t need that. (Actually, we likely do need that – though its not sufficient)
Both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures feel almost foreign in their valuing of the physical.
The Hebrew Scriptures is one of the most marvelously humanistic texts you can find! The importance of sacrifice in covenanting. Unless you had something physical to put between you. In Hebrew culture you would literally cut an animal in two and have both contractual parties walk between them. How’d you like to do that Lynda? A deep reminder of how bodied our relationships are – you really can’t be in relationship without tflesh and blood presence.
Likewise, the New Testament can begin to feel out of place for many of us. Over and over and over again the predominant spiritual resource and asset that Jesus used to teach us about faith, is the table. It was probably the most important pulpit that Jesus ever had, save for the cross itself. He physically touched and broke bread with people, sitting down at table with Zachaeus Simon, and sinners. He used the table to value what God values in homes during the Passover Feast, and proved his humanity by eating fish after the resurrection.
Worship resources passed on to the church stun in their physicality. Of course there is the Eucharist – the celebration of the self-sacrificial love of Jesus for salvation and modeling – which triggers all our senses: fruit of the earth and food for the soul. But think about how we’ve abstracted Eucharist from the table where the early church practiced it; it’s no longer a meal that we linger over around the table in worship but a ritual, a bit, the world’s tiniest snack eaten awkwardly in places where food generally isn’t even allowed.
But it’s not just Eucharist. The New Testament used countless other bodied rituals, such as the holy kiss, passing the peace, washing the feet, anointing with oil, laying on of hands, the water and touch of baptism… you could hardly get away a worship service without something bodied going on.
There’s an image used to evoke the relationship between body and soul perhaps you’ve heard, “We are not so much bodies with souls, as we are souls with bodies.” This isn’t splitting hairs so much as our attempt to manipulate language to express the soul is of supreme value. But I’m not sure that this is something the bible says.
The Bible doesn’t downplay the beauty of being creatures. One of our most core doctrines as Christians is the resurrection. Fundamental to this doctrine is the express truth that we will die. There is not an understanding of the immortality of the soul, but a stern belief that our bodies will be resurrected. It’s the celebration of the resurrection of life in its completeness! We will die. And we shall live again – both souls and bodies.
Faith is a bodied existence, love a bodied reality. Imagine trying to love someone without presence, sharing space, or food. Think about how diminished your family would be if you food were removed from your reality – the table, the culture, the cooking, the memories, the fellowship – would all be gone. As well as how it connects you to farmers, cultures which created the recipes, posterity, memories of grandma. For me it’s not a stretch to say my experience of family wouldn’t just be deficient – but of an entirely different nature altogether.
Every relationship is essentially a bodied connection that uses the physical to connect with the spiritual.
I want to share with you some ways that we as a church embody our love for you, or at least we try to. I’m not saying we do this perfectly, but as in all symbiotic relationships there is both initiation and reception.
Here are 5 Ways HMC is committed to a symbiotic relationship with you.
CHRISTIAN FORMATION. Space to learn and grow in a setting of authentic conversation can be found EVERY Sunday at 9:30am in our Sunday School classes for all ages. Free booklets outlining spiritual practices, journaling, devotions and Bible Reading plans are provided to form your faith. Grab one today! And a central and energizing reason I blog for the Houston Chronicle is to equip you for faithfulness today.
PEACE OF MIND. All pastors, as well as every volunteer who works with children, has taken regular classes to prevent sexual misconduct and abuse. I sign an annual Clergy Sexual Abuse Prevention Covenant. Our program to keep our kiddos safe is called Safe Sanctuaries,and includes great preventions like background checks, the 2-Person Rule, and windows in every room.
PASTORAL CARE. It’s not a given that a congregation our size would choose to release a full-time worker for pastoral care. I’m available during surgery (like James this week!), for counseling, coffee, or prayer. Just let me know!
FINANCIAL STEWARDSHIP RESOURCES. To ensure your financial health, we have generous assistance available should you ever need some help (we call this our Crisis Assistance Fund). Don’t hesitate to ask; it’s perfectly confidential. We also provide through our denomination Debt Management Counseling. And of course we’ve the best Fair Trade Store in Texas. And here’s a bonus: we consistently encourage you to resist consumptive capitalism and economic greed, each and every week. We call this “taking the offering,” but seriously, what is it if not a sound resource for financial health and faithfulness?
COMMISSIONING FOR MINISTRY. We believe in you – in your gifts, wisdom, and capacity for creative meaningful ministry where you live, work, and play! And so we treat you with the dignity you long for, and commission you each worship service to be who God has created you to be. We underwrite this value by providing Outreach Grants for any and all of us who would like church support and financial investment in our lives. So think creatively, and apply today!
But there are also some ways that we as the church’s members provide sustenance for our symbiotic relationship. God in bodied form came to as Jesus and created the church – and now we are the body of Christ. I think that’s an important image for us to understand. It’s not an abstract metaphor about our oneness, calling us to believe something we rarely experience. It’s a physical statement – we are Christ’s body for one another, God’s physical presence in each other’s lives. We are the hands and feet of Jesus.
When your doubts are so stark you can hardly imagine a God exists there’s someone singing for you, or sipping coffee while listening. When we fail there’s someone to simply be with you who chooses to love you regardless. When our debts or despair amass we know we’re not alone.
Allow me the joy of re-writing portions of 1 Corinthians 13 (part of the famous Love Chapter) in Mennonite form.
Love is casserole, love is time. Love isn’t a belief, an idea, or a noun – love is a verb, mutual financial care and disaster relief. All the doctrine in the world could not save me if my heart is calloused but my hands never are. Love is returning to save your enemy, and the habitual response of forgiving a child’s killer. Love is church prioritizing people over programs, growth as disciples more than numbers. Love is tabled, bodied, and initiative. It flows through us from our God who is love.
Thanks be to God for creating Houston Mennonite Church (said, like all good Mennonites, with extra humility)!