|Rediscovering Christian contemplative practice: day 6|
|Thursday, 30 August 2012 16:03|
A series on Christian contemplative practice with Shaun Lambert
Day 6: Repairing our view of the body
Sadly, many Christians do not value their bodies enough, trapped as they are in a view that spirit is good and body is bad. Manichaeus, who lived in the third century, was one of the first Christians to condemn the body and sexuality, seeing the material world as evil.
This error was condemned by the Church as a heresy. However, Manichaeism seems to be alive and well in the contemporary Church.
We need a new theology of the body which recognises it as the hinge of theology from the beginning to the end of the biblical story.
This would help redeem the image of the Church in the whole area of the body and sexuality. It is seen as prudish, repressive and irrelevant by a world undergoing a profound sexual crisis. We may have help in this reconfiguring of the meaning of human embodiment from unlikely sources.
It is often on retreats that God gives me a new insight into something. On another three-day retreat at Worth Abbey, the Benedictine Catholic monastery, I had the opportunity to look at some teaching on the body by Pope John Paul II which became a major theme of his pontificate, especially focusing on sexuality and erotic desire. (i)
Why did God give us bodies in the beginning? Pope John Paul II argues that it is to make visible something of the invisible mystery of God. When we look forward to Christmas, as the Word of God became flesh, the body re-enters theology by the main door.
As embodied creatures, many of our deepest experiences involve the affirmation of our bodies, and the most painful involve the rejection of our bodies. At the age of six I was first sent to boarding school, experiencing it as a rejection. The loss of the visible embodied closeness of my family was traumatic.
The fear of rejection lies at the root of much of our inadequate relating - whether we keep our distance physically and emotionally, interpret relationships suspiciously or cling to others.
For me, God began to do a healing work when I realised my mother didn't intend sending me away as a rejection. This healing continued at my short stay at Worth Abbey early on a Sunday morning before the sun rose as I contemplated a crucifix hanging from the Abbey ceiling and read the words of Jesus: 'This is my body given for you' (Luke 22:9).
Other times in my life when someone had given their body for me suddenly came back to me, and almost for the first time I realised the profound significance of Jesus' words through the remembrance of these other profound givings.
My mother had given her body to me, housing me in her womb - letting her body be my home. The natural, spiritual and intense bond of breastfeeding is another archetypal event when a body is given for another.
My father once protected my sister and me by putting his body between us and a shoal of jellyfish when we were swimming in the sea. Another time he put his body in the way of an aggressive drunk to protect the two of us.
In marriage, there is great healing when we are fully seen by our loved one physically, emotionally and spiritually, and fully see another. As our bodies are given one to another in sexual union, one of the great existential truths is that we become 'one flesh' (Genesis 2:24). That is why there is great hurt in marriage when we give our bodies to others through so-called 'casual' affairs.
Again, help in this area is coming from an unlikely source. Dr David Schnarch is a clinical psychologist and marriage therapist who, although not a Christian, recognises the spiritual element to sexuality. His research and work with hundreds of couples shows that the best sex occurs between emotionally committed couples who choose to stay together and not to have other partners - because only in that context is it possible to know someone deeply.
In our post-modern disposable culture, bodies are given away too easily in what David Schnarch calls the mindless 'piece of meat' model of sex, disposed of too easily through abortion and euthanasia. (ii)
Every year in November we remember those who have given their bodies in times of war in what is often called the ultimate sacrifice, that we might enjoy peace.
If as Christians we can present the true biblical theology of the body, we can encourage a culture of life rather than death. Our culture, with its emphasis on techniques and sensation in sex, has completely lost sight of what true intimacy is.
As a church, we need to reopen the main door and let the body back in to spirituality, and let spirituality back into the body.
Taken from A Book of Sparks Click here for more on A Book of Sparks, including how to purchase
The Revd Shaun Lambert is a Baptist minister based in Stanmore, North West London. He is part of the New Wine leader's network, and PREMIER Mind and Soul network.
For the last ten years he has studied integrative and relational counselling at Roehampton University and has written regularly for The Baptist Times.
He believes that all truth is God's truth and that Christians need to be learners and thinkers who help critique and transform culture.
|Last Updated on Friday, 31 August 2012 09:39|
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