Back in December, I posted a reflection on how the incarnation—God’s becoming flesh in Jesus—was a ground of assurance that we may trust the goodness and love of God. God is, the incarnation makes clear, like Jesus.
Another crucial truth of the incarnation is that God became flesh so that we may be sure that bodies, our bodies and the bodies of all other people, matter to God.
Because God cares about bodies, God cares about food. The simple fact that there is a table, a meal, at the heart of the church’s worship means, at the very least, that God cares about tables and mealtimes—and about who’s included and who’s left out when we gather.
God cares about the condition of the soil from which food grows, about the dignity and health of the farmers who grow it, about the fairness by which it is sold and marketed, and about the equity and justice of its distribution. God cares about people who don’t have enough food, which is why Jesus so often fed hungry people.
God also cares about people who struggle with food: people who have substituted it for love and can’t get enough of it, even when they have eaten far too much, and God cares for people who are obsessed with controlling how much food they eat because they feel so out of control in other parts of their lives.
God cares about the struggles we have with pain and disease. God is with us when we undergo cancer, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments; mastectomies and reconstruction; hip replacement, knee replacement, and physical therapy; high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol counts; stents and bypasses; dialysis and kidney transplants, leukemia and sickle cell anemia. God cares about diabetes, depression, and dementia; about arthritis, osteoporosis, and paralysis; and about asthma, emphysema, and COPD.
God knows from immediate experience in Jesus that, when we haven’t slept enough, or eaten well, or felt the affirmation of touch, it’s harder for us to love well, to think clearly, and to feel truly. Everything that touches our bodies matters to God: the quality and availability of air and water, the decency and adequacy of shelter, and the conditions and wages of employment.
Because God cares about our bodies, God smiles when we relax beside a warm fire on a cold night, when strong and tender hands massage away the knotted tension of stress from our shoulders, and when a welcoming embrace assures that we belong.
God delights in the three-point shot that ties a game at the buzzer and sends it into overtime, in the perfect spiral pass to the outstretched hands of a sprinting split-end, and in the powerful strokes and swiftly gliding body of a swimmer in the last leg of a 400 meter relay. Remember the well-known words of Olympic runner Eric Liddell, “God made me fast and, when I run, I feel his pleasure.”
A dancer’s flowing grace pleases God; so do the breath, hands, and mouths which make music and the eyes and hands which fashion a painting or a sculpture.
God’s love for us and for our bodies includes the good gift of sex which can have nearly sacramental power for celebrating, expressing, deepening, and heightening the intimacy which covenanted lovers share. Almost unanimously, the church’s mystics tell us that to be lost in the joy of passion is like being lost in God.
God cares about all these things and more, because we don’t just have bodies; we are bodies. However intellectual, emotional, or spiritual an experience might be, it is also and always, a physical experience: it involves our bodies’ skeletal, chemical, vascular, muscular, glandular, respiratory, neural, electrical, and digestive systems. All of our experiences fire across the synapses of our brains and register somewhere in our bodies. Indeed, I think our experiences are stored somewhere in our bodies.
Barbara Brown Taylor wrote that
. . . God loves flesh and blood, no matter what kind of shape it is in. Whether you are sick or well, lovely or irregular, there comes a time when it is vitally important for your spiritual health to drop your clothes, look in the mirror, and say, “Here I am. This is the body-like-no-other that my life has shaped. I live here. This is my soul’s address.” After you have taken a good look around, you may decide that there is a lot to be thankful for, all things considered. Bodies take real beatings. That they heal from most things is an underrated miracle. That they give birth is beyond reckoning (An Altar in the World, 38)
When you look in the mirror at your body, a gift from God to you, remember that the resurrected Jesus stands beside you, bearing the evidence of his own wounds, now healed: the nail prints are still in his hands; the scar in his side is still visible. With him at our sides, we talk as friends about the all the wounding and bruising experiences of our lives. From him, we learn that wholeness does not mean unscarred. Wholeness, instead, includes the astonished awareness that our scars are a physical record of God’s mercy on us in the hardest seasons of life.