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Never an Either/Or

March 8, 2013

jump!A quote, attributed to C.S. Lewis, has been making the rounds of my social media lately: “You don’t have a soul.  You are a soul.  You have a body”.  I’ve seen it posted by pastors and priests as well as spiritual-but-not-religious friends and I’ve bitten my commenting tongue every time it’s scrolled by, resisting the urge to type, in all-caps, “HERESY!!!” (which is rarely a way to make friends).

But heresy it is—and a quick Google search has assured me that C.S. Lewis never said any such thing.  The quote, or versions thereof, is very old and no one knows its origin.  Regardless of where it comes from, though, it’s wrong.

We are souls/bodies, essentially flesh and essentially spirit equally, mysteriously, and inseparably.  Which is why there is no need for a crisis of faith when spiritual experiences can be described with hormones and neuro-chemicals—it’s not either/or but rather one resounding “Yes!”.

Remember, the Word of God was made flesh.  Jesus didn’t just put it on temporarily; he was made of it.  And then the Word of God died in the flesh and was resurrected—in the flesh!  Notice just how bodily Holy Week and the Easter season are: Jesus is constantly touching and being touched, eating, walking, talking, crying.  Just like us.

I know this can be hard news.  Many of us have…complicated relationships with our bodies.  Many of us have bodies which are broken or sick or limiting.  All of us have bodies that are aging and that will die.  But we can’t just treat them as prisons or even temporary palaces for our true, spiritual selves.  In all their weaknesses and their wonders, they are our true spiritual selves, in unity with our souls and minds and personality.

But this hard news is, ultimately, good news.  Our bodies, their needs and desires, are not to be despised.  They matter and they speak to us of the holy.  Our religious tradition has too often pretended otherwise.  Our intellectual tradition has, as well, prioritizing cognitive processes over bodily ones.  But, as parents, we have an excellent opportunity to practice listening to bodies for a Word from God because, as Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer points out: “Parenting may be a spiritual journey, but it is never far removed from bodily realities.”  Dressing, burping, toileting, tickling, bandaging, cleaning, hauling, chasing, soothing—these are the spiritual disciplines of this particular vocation.

Because it’s never an either/or.


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