Our neighbors have a tall, silver, windowless van in which they transport merchandise for their antique business. When I first saw it, I kidded them about whether it contained aliens, or perhaps alien pods to replace people in the complex. Then I clarified that I didn’t mean illegal aliens, but extraterrestrial ones, like the coneheads of Saturday Night Live.
The pods reference was to the 1950s sci-fi classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which extraterrestrial aliens use pods to grow exact duplicates of human beings, but without emotions or individuality. I had always thought it was a metaphor for the conformity of McCarthyism, the anti-communist hysteria I referred to in last week’s post. But I discovered on the internet that others think it a metaphor for communism itself or any totalitarian state or rigid ideology, such as fundamentalism or even orthodoxy.
Yet what it makes me think of are the body snatchers that found their way into Christian thinking—you know, those who introduced the Greek notion of body-spirit duality that contradicted the Hebrew and early Christian concept of the soul, an indivisible unity of body and spirit. To separate spirit and body meant that the spiritual was higher, eternal, and closer to God in the heavens and the body was lower, temporal, and separated from God, being closer to earth.
Despite four central theological affirmations to the contrary—Creation, Incarnation, Resurrection, and the church as the Body of Christ—Christians got it in their heads that the body was not a locus for divinity. But, as I wrote long before I read it in one of James B. Nelson’s books, we know God through our bodies or we don’t know God at all. That I thought my words original suggests how much the work of Nelson and other body theologians had permeated contemporary Christian consciousness.
I thought I had to go outside of Christian tradition to find affirmation of my bodily and earthly experience. That’s why Kazantzakis’ Zorba the Greek became my second Bible in college: Zorba’s sensual zest filled a gap in my theology. That’s why Romantic Age poets and Process philosophy and Native American spirituality helped me see the sacred in nature’s every turn. And that’s why science from biology to astronomy now inspires me.
Little did I think that God evolving earth and bodies was a cosmic laying on of hands imparting holiness. Little did I consider the metaphor of God putting on human flesh as an incredible affirmation of the body, especially a body willing to touch other bodies with affection and healing. Little did I know that resurrection reclaims bodily experience as having eternal significance. Little did I understand that the concept Body of Christ meant that “the anointed one” transcended being a first century Palestinian Jewish male, becoming a body of every age, race, condition, gender, sexuality, and nationality.
If only I had known of Celtic Christianity then—the notion that Christ walks among us in two shoes—the Bible and Creation, and that sin can be removed by the grace encountered in nature, love, or Christ. If only I had read the Benedictine nun Julian of Norwich (1342-1420), that “Our sensuality is grounded in Nature, in Compassion, in Grace… In our sensuality, God is… God is the means by which our Substance and our Sensuality are kept together so as never to be apart.” In other words, in God our essence and our embodiment are one—the integrity sought in the spiritual life. And if only I had been taught Teresa of Avila’s (1515-1582) insight that now on earth God’s body is our own!
I believe more people could comprehend the spiritual life if they understood that spirituality is not an out-of-body experience, not an other-worldly encounter. Rather, our bodies participate in the divine life, the cosmos is God’s body. “In God we live and move and have our being.”
Beware of the body snatchers!