Father Richard describes how Christianity’s distrust of the body originates not from the Bible, but from Greek philosophy:
I think my brilliant Franciscan history and liturgy professor, Father Larry Landini (1935–2005), may have given the best explanation for why so many Christians seem to be ashamed and afraid of the body. In 1969, after four years studying church history, Father Larry offered these final words to us: “Just remember, on the practical level, the Christian Church was much more influenced by Plato than it was by Jesus.” He left us laughing, but also stunned and sad, because four years of honest church history had told us how true this actually was.
For Plato, body and soul were incompatible enemies; matter and spirit were at deep odds with one another. Yet for Jesus, there is no animosity between body and soul. In fact, this is the heart of Jesus’ healing message and of the incarnation itself. Jesus, in whom “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14), was fully human, even as he was fully divine, with both body and spirit operating as one.
In the Apostles’ Creed, which goes back to the second century, we say, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” The creed doesn’t say we believe in the resurrection of the spirit or the soul—but so many people hear it this way! And, of course, it doesn’t say that because the soul cannot die. Instead, we profess in the creed that human embodiment has an eternal character to it. (Read all of 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul tries to communicate this in endlessly mysterious ways.)
Christianity makes a daring and broad claim: God is redeeming matter and spirit, the whole of creation. The Bible speaks of the “new heaven and the new earth” and the descent of the “new Jerusalem from heaven” to “live among us” (Revelation 21:1–3). This physical universe and our own physicality are somehow going to share in the Eternal Mystery. Your body participates in the very mystery of salvation. In fact, it is the new and lasting temple (1 Corinthians 6:19–20 and throughout Paul’s letters).
Many Christians falsely assumed that if they could “die” to their body, their spirit would for some reason miraculously arise. Often the opposite was the case. After centuries of body rejection, and the lack of any positive body theology, the West is now trapped in substance addiction, obesity, anorexia, bulimia, plastic surgery, and an obsession with appearance and preserving these bodies. Our poor bodies, which Jesus affirmed, have become the receptacles of so much negativity and obsession.
The pendulum has now swung in the opposite direction, and the fervor for gyms and salons makes one think these are the new cathedrals of worship. The body is rightly reasserting its goodness and importance. Can we somehow honor both body and spirit together? When Christianity is in any way anti-body, it is not authentic Christianity. The incarnation tells us that body and spirit must fully operate and be respected as one.
Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2013), 38–39.
Explore Further. . .
- Read Richard on “Trusting Our Bodies.”
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Kazuo Ota, Untitled (detail), 2020, photograph, Unsplash. Nick Moore, Untitled (detail), 2018, photograph, Richmond, Unsplash. Jordan Whitt, Cataloochee river (detail), 2016, Cataloochee, photograph, Unsplash. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.
This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story.
Image inspiration: There is knowledge in our muscles and bones. When our body encounters the world, a door into deeper understanding can be opened.
Story from Our Community:
Hearing the Silence of God / It says: Nothing. / Simply embraces me like a warm lover’s breath blowing over my body. / In it I feel again the taste of hot apple cider my mother would hand me as I stamped the snow from my little child’s leggings and came to the warmth of her morning fire. / Or taste the sweetness of that last sip of coffee rich with sugar at the bottom of the cup. / Or see the secret smile my mother’s eyes could flash in the airless rooms of my father’s anger. / Like all of these, like none of these. . . / there is where God lives: / In the deepest, wordless silence inside of us. / In the spaces between the words of our prayers.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.