The Raw Materials of Faith: Body
Reflection 2 Jesus—the Second Incarnation
There is a second incarnation, the one we’re more familiar with, when God himself steps down into this creation in the form of Jesus. This is a permanent and eternal change in the nature of God, what God has taken on in human flesh will not be reversed. Jesus bears human flesh forever.
And it reminds we must pay attention to our bodies.
Christians have always had an uneasy relationship with our bodies. We speak negatively of the flesh. Sometimes I think that we function under the mistaken belief that we are eternal spirits clothed for a time in an inconvenient body and that one day God will remove the restriction of our body and free us from its drives.
This mistake is deepened when we act as if we can only approach God internally, through our minds and that our bodies are only a hindrance.
Many Christian traditions have paid too little attention to issues like ecology and climate change because we have lived under the mistaken belief that at the end of all things God is going to destroy this planet anyway so why pay any attention to saving it.
But neither of these understandings is Christian theology.
I think we need to recover a serious and deep theology of the incarnation and the importance of our bodies for encountering God. That to enjoy a full and rounded relationship with God we need all of our senses.
Let’s think for a moment about our sense of smell.
Thinking back to the 1970s and 1980s what are the smells that bring that decade back.
My dad wore Brut or Old Spice. My first aftershave was Blue Stratos and my brother got hai karate. The first perfume I ever bought for a girl was Anais Anais and I spent a fortune on Paris for her too.
I understand that the part of the olfactory nerve processes smell is right next door to the amygdala, the part of the brain that stores memory and emotion. That’s why the smell of these perfumes and aftershaves can bring memories flooding back.
The smell of Christmas in the Jordan household. [ we lit a scented candles…and walked them around the building leaving them alight in the body of the church]
Ex. 30:22 Then the LORD said to Moses, 23 “Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much (that is, 250 shekels) of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant calamus, 24 500 shekels of cassia—all according to the sanctuary shekel—and a hin of olive oil. 25 Make these into a sacred anointing oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer. It will be the sacred anointing oil. 26 Then use it to anoint the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law, 27 the table and all its articles, the lampstand and its accessories, the altar of incense, 28 the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the basin with its stand. 29 You shall consecrate them so they will be most holy, and whatever touches them will be holy.
Ex. 30:30 “Anoint Aaron and his sons and consecrate them so they may serve me as priests. 31 Say to the Israelites, ‘This is to be my sacred anointing oil for the generations to come. 32 Do not pour it on anyone else’s body and do not make any other oil using the same formula. It is sacred, and you are to consider it sacred. 33 Whoever makes perfume like it and puts it on anyone other than a priest must be cut off from their people.’ ”
To these people who had been freed from Egypt, God smelled like cinnamon, and cassia, like olive oil and myrrh. God was sweet and strong and aromatic. [Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday]
This scent was the carrier of their memory. To the ancient Israelites this was God’s scent that they would carry with them and remember. And the scent would transport them to worship. It was a trigger.
Part of what it is to be a human being is to live in this body, and with this body we worship God.
So we sometimes kneel to pray. We stand to sing and even raise our arms sometimes. We join our hands to pray. I know someone goes for long walks and when she’s alone she prays out loud as she walks.
So if you struggle to pray, maybe you could try to change your body position. For we are embodied spirits and spirit and body are connected and shouldn’t be divided.
Taste and See that the Lord is good. (Psa 34:8)
It is not by accident then that the chief means by which we are asked to remember Jesus and what he did is a meal…simple bread and wine. The taste of both to remind us.
Take care of your body, it is the chief means by which you can experience God. Christian faith is more than giving intellectual assent to certain doctrines, it is a profoundly physical experience and our senses, hearing, seeing, touching, tasting, and smelling are all means by which we can enjoy our relationship with God.
Take care too not to abuse the bodies of others. It’s one of the reasons why the physical abuse scandal in our churches is such a profanity. To profane another’s body, to damage them physically and psychologically is to damage a primary means of their approach to God.
It’s why Christians can stand alongside those who are leading the #metoo movement after the Harvey Weinstein scandals.
1Th. 4:3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honourable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; 6 and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before.
In our prayers of intercession I want to begin by inviting you to think about your feet and your legs. How many years of service have they given you? Give thanks for the places they have carried you and therefore for the things they have enabled you to experience and see.
We pray for those whose mobility is impaired, for those whose access to places is inhibited. We pray that we will be more mindful of those who struggle to get around, that our homes and churches, our towns and cities, our world will become increasingly accessible.
We think too of those who are forced to flee on foot from places of violence. Forced to live in unsafe, insanitary and uncomfortable places, separated from family, friends and community. We pray that the wealthy countries of the West will recognise their responsibility to those who are refugees.
Now think about your arms and your shoulders, think about how strong they are, think of how they have enabled you to lift your children and grandchildren, and embrace your loved ones. Think of the burdens they have enabled you to bear.
We pray for those whose strength is ebbing and who are losing hope. Show us how we can bear them up in prayer and carry them through our friendship and love. We pray for those who are lonely and isolated, show us how we can demonstrate love and care. May we learn how to bear one another’s burdens. May we also be humble enough to recognise when we need help.
The above is part of a church service at Ballycrochan Presbyterian Church (audio HERE). This is Reflection 2 from a 3-parter and the prayers which followed.