Bodies are kind of silly, when you really look at them. A very few of us might favor Michelangelo’s David or the Venus de Milo. But most of us, well, as I often say, especially the one time someone invited me to a nude beach, “most of us look better in clothes.” Which is why, I suspect, we spend so much effort and money dressing our bodies up to be presentable. But even then, we usually end up untucked and showing through somehow. It’s sort of comical.
Look at the picture of five sets of dirty, scraped up legs from the time Beth W. and I hiked up a volcano in Nicaragua with Daniel, Jackson and Jordana, fellow Old Firsters who were a spry 18 years old at the time. Legs, young or old, beat up or pristine — no matter how useful when attached and coordinating with the rest of a body — look sort of gangly and ridiculous on their own. Unlikely and ungainly appendages.
More to my point, no matter how fancy or flattering the covering, underneath, our bodies are, well, humble. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. And we all bleed when we’re cut. Even when we eat right, drag ourselves to the gym to exercise and strengthen, let medical care providers prod and poke us, sometimes our bodies pain us. More often, they just get tired and weak or sick and hurt. They make funny noises and don’t always smell good. Ultimately, if they are lucky, they get old. And finally they die.
I was thinking of this the other day, when my trainer was hollering at me to keep my head up while I was doing some impossible balancing act to strengthen my core during his maniacal exercise regimen. He warned, “If you look down, eventually you will end up down.” I laughed and replied, “Rich, I’m a pastor, so I can tell you for sure: sooner or later, we all end up down. But the good news, even though we fall down, by God’s grace, we can get back up again.” He laughed and laughed, and left me alone for a minute.
But, for all our bodies’ hang-ups, we haven’t grasped all the wonder of God’s creation until we recognize that they are as sacred as they are silly. “The word became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). A more recent religious reflection concludes that incarnation is not only earthy and unsophisticated — imagine God in diapers. It’s also undignified and untheological — God with a runny nose or injured pride.
But according to our faith and our experience, that is exactly the way things are.
So the next time you notice and wince at the extra pounds or chins. When you look in the mirror and wish you had a different nose or more hair. When it occurs to you life would be better if your hip didn’t click or your feet weren’t flat. Or you just had more breath. Or energy. Or health. Or years… Remember that even our frailty is sacred.
That has always been so. And Christmas is an invitation to love your imperfect, perishable body because it’s as precious as a newborn baby. But if you sometimes have trouble believing it, you aren’t the only one. But remember ours is an incarnational faith. Because God showed us that there is something to be accomplished in these funny, time-limited bodies of ours. That they’re worth the trouble.
That’s why God cried with the croup and scratched with the chicken pox. Why God needed a nap on the tired days. And cut himself — (God as “he” because “his” human form was in the form of Jesus!) — and everyone else a break and went to the far side of the lake on his bad mood days. God ate, and walked and slept. God laughed until the tears flowed and sides grew sore. And God was afraid and confused and disappointed sometimes too. And God died, in a body just like yours and mine.
In fact, the promise is that even our bodies, despite their limitations and short half-lives — and those of us who inhabit them — are reflections of God’s image.
Some of our most beloved religious ideas connote a sense of wanting to get free of our bodies so we can be nearer to God. Closer to the truth is that God took bodily form to get next to us.
What it’s like when lay our tired bodies down, before they are raised again as resurrection bodies — I can’t be sure? In the meantime, I’m going to try to live out my faith in the real world and in the sacred and silly body through which I’ve been given to experience it.
See you in church,