I heard this TED talk the other day that explores the connection between body language, hormones, and self confidence. We know that body language affects how others view us. This talk explores is how our own body language affects how we feel about ourselves. Certain postures affect the levels of the hormones testosterone and cortisol which in turn affects our feelings and behavior.
Scientists are doing a lot of very interesting work exploring the relationships between our minds and our bodies. Brains are necessary for us to have minds, but they don’t seem, so far at least, to be everything that is necessary. Our minds are somehow more than just our brains. Therapists tell us that emotions follow actions. If we do things that make us happy, we will become happy. Exercise makes us feel better mentally. Theologians wonder about the relationship between our physical selves and our souls. It is all really fascinating and really confusing and truly wonderful.
The more we learn about mind/body/spirit interconnections the less it is possible to split ourselves into physical versus spiritual. And it becomes more difficult to split other people and the world up that way.
Christians sometimes forget this. We are heirs to the Greco- Roman idea that we can split the world into material and spiritual. We westerners can thank the Greco-Roman world for the idea that the world has material and non material parts. The old technical terms are accidents and substance. (see here, also.) Some of us still have the idea that physical things are less important, less real even, than spiritual things.On the other hand, some of us ( although not typically Christians) think physical things are all that exist.
The idea that the spiritual is better, more valuable than the physical isn’t the belief we find in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). God breaths life into dusty,muddy humans. In ancient Jewish life, God was present. In a pillar of fire, in a cloud, in the tabernacle, on the mountain. The world was the place were God was active. Heaven was where God (or the gods) lived, not where humans went someday in the after life. God’s saving actions took place in this world not in a disembodied future world.
This was the world of Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Paul, the disciples and Jesus. We have never been simply “nothing but” bodies without a soul. Neither are we souls in search of a physical body. Bodies are not superior to souls, nor souls superior to bodies. The reality is much more complex and much more interesting. We are body and mind and soul. The more we learn the more difficult it is to separate ourselves into discrete parts. Life is complex as well as often confusing and very untidy.
Christians often seem to forget what we know. Resurrection involves bodies. The return of Christ doesn’t mean the end of the physical world. It does seem to mean the improvement of the physical world in ways we cannot imagine. When the resurrected Christ appears to the women and the apostles he is embodied. Mary does not embrace a ghost. The disciples walk with an embodied person on the way to Emmaus. In John’s gospel Jesus physically builds a fire, cooks and eats breakfast with the disciples.
Even though I live as a person with a body, mind, and soul everyday, I have trouble thinking about all this. It is too big and too wonderful. Still it is good to ponder, especially during Eastertide, what amazing and complex beings we are and the amazing and complex God who creates, redeems and sustains us all.