I believe in the body.
Ultimately I don’t believe much in ideas and principles, even though I use these unseen constructs constantly in my work and in my personal struggle to make sense of the world. Ideas and principles are just tools we humans use to sort out our world and our life within it. The real energy, our life itself, is communion with each other, with the rest of creation, and with the One who made us all. Our physical being is born of communion, and in Genesis, the book of beginnings, the embodied life-in-communion of human beings and other creatures is deemed very good.
Over the centuries, though, our bodies have been much maligned and mistreated. The Greek philosophers, bless their systematic souls, tended to hypothesize the body as a casing, a container imprisoning the spirit—something to be escaped and transcended. My own Christian tradition picked up valuable insights from the philosophers but sometimes tried too hard to harmonize them with biblical teachings about creation.
If the body doesn’t matter, you see, it can be starved, hated, beaten, indulged, made into an object. Eventual results in my tradition have included a devaluation of sexuality and marriage, a fear of visual art and dance, and, all too often, a justification of violence.
But since childhood I have loved words with a kind of helpless wonder, and poetry has taught me to love the body—my own and others’. Poetry takes me into the physical world and nudges me to see it, taste it, smell it, because the poem comes alive when it is an act of communion, bearing textures and odors and colors to the hearer or reader.
Skin, for example: Poetry makes me look carefully at light falling on the skin of my child, my sister, a stranger on the bus. It makes me notice shadows, the shape of a particular nose, a summer evening’s light sheen of perspiration down a leg.
The body matters. This, of course, has been part of Christian belief since the beginning. God loves this messy world—and our physical life within it—so much that the Word of God’s own self-uttering became flesh and made a home with human beings. It was a breathtakingly poetic thing to do.
Jesus Christ has said a radical yes to the body, and thus as a poet and a Christ-follower I honor the body with my noticing, my love, and my small words.
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