Our Bodies, Prophets

Blog, Theology

As a man, I have prophets of machismo telling me that purebred masculinity is premeditation and rationality—manhood is a stoic stare. It is disembodiment. In Aristotle’s philosophy, there was something called an act/potency distinction—Aristotle made the distinction to explain (1) our ability to change the world (act), and (2) our our capacity for being changed by the world (potency; pathē). “Act” connotes control; “potencty”/”passivity” connotes being-moved.

In the ancient world, the act/potency distinction was manifested by humans in terms of masculinity and femininity. Women were more body-creatures, whose pathē (potency) determined their existence, while men were called to exemplify energia: “Act,” “Effect,” “Productivity,” “Work,” “Supra-passion.” Women are emotional and men are rational, so the story goes. I have that voice in my ear every day.

That’s why we have such a hard time with a God who feels—perhaps because he then seems too feminine. Wendell Berry helped me today to remember the goodness of embodiment—nay,

that the necessity of remembering that my emotions which come from the deepest depths (Greek: the splagchnon) must not be forgotten.

The feelings of the body should be received and welcomed and understood—they often bring a message; and if we have the right skills to hear our emotions well, they can be a better prophet than the world. Berry melts us like butter:

“The body characterizes everything it touches. What it makes it traces over with the marks of its pulses and breathings, its excitements, hesitations, flaws, and mistakes. On its good work, it leaves the marks of skill, care, and love persisting through hesitations, flaws, and mistakes. And to those of us who love and honor the life of the body in the world, these marks are precious things, necessities of life.”[1]

Love, Berry? Ah, yes. We are not merely mind—the mental is the sidecar of the spiritual-physical. We are not machines. We refuse ascend the hill of the stoic—we will not make the Hajj to sacrifice the body and its prophecies for a measly allowance of tolerance-love. We would let them go before we let ourselves go:

“I know that there are some people, perhaps many, to whom you cannot appeal on behalf of the body. To them, disembodiment is a goal, and they long for the realm of pure mind—or pure machine; the difference is negligible. Their departure from their bodies, obviously, is much to be desired, but the rest of us had better be warned: they are going to cause a lot of dangerous commotion on their way out.”[2]

To be a man (and to be a human) is to be a body—and it is neither inferior nor feminine to be affected. It is human, and it is divine—we characterize the world because we were bestowed with the sacred power of the divine image. We are affected and produce effects because we are made in the image of the one who is affected and produces effects. Our bodies tell us truth because God tells us truth. Whatever the case, our bodies—their feelings and messages and intuitions and loves—are indispensable to our humanity. We love kind of crazy because, well, so does he (See: the Old Testament; cf. also the Cross). God made his greatest mark on the world by taking on a body. Let’s not escape our bodies, or even think we need to try.

[1] Wendell Berry, The Art of Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry (Berkeley:Counterpoint, 2002), 78.

[2] Ibid.


-The body characterizes everything it

Metaphor and Self, Part 2: The Emotional World of Romantic Love

Philosophy, Psychology

Our emotional life is not constituted by crass literalism, but is strewn with – composed of, even – literary devices. Don’t believe me? When your lover asks you to express your feelings about them in words, you will bend the knee. Zoltán Kövecses explains, “Emotion concepts are composed of a number of parts: metaphors, metonymies, [and] ‘related concepts.’”[1] What do these categories look like in terms of the “love” concept? Kövecses gives us a helpful start.

Metaphor:

  • love is a nutrient: I am starved for love. 
  • love is a journey: It’s been a long, bumpy road.

  • love is a unity of parts: We’re as oneThey’re breaking up. We’re inseparableWe fused together.
  • love is a bond: There is a close tie between them.

  • love is a fluid in a container: She was overflowing with love.
  • love is fire: I am burning with love.

  • love is an economic exchange: I’m putting more into this than you are.

  • love is a natural force: She swept me off my feet.

  • love is a physical force: I was magnetically drawn to her.

  • love is an opponent: She tried to fight her feelings of love.
  • 
love is a captive animal: She let go of her feelings.

  • love is war: She conquered him.

  • love is insanity: I am crazy about you. 
  • love is a social superior: She is completely ruled by love.
  • 
love is rapture/a high: I have been high on love for weeks.

  • the object of love is a small child: Well, baby, what are we gonna do?

  • the object of love is a deity: Don’t put her on a pedestal. He worships her.

Metonymy:

  • increase in body heat stands for love: I felt hot all over when I saw her.
  • 
increase in heart rate stands for love: He’s a heart-throb.
  • blushing stands for love: She blushed when she saw him.

  • dizziness stands for love: She’s in a daze over him. I feel dizzy every time I see her.

  • sweaty palms stand for love: His palms became sweaty when he looked at her.
  • inability to breathe stands for love: You take my breath away.

  • interference with accurate perception stands for love: He saw nothing but her.

  • inability to think stands for love: He can’t think straight when around her.
  • physical closeness stands for love: They are always together.
  • 
intimate sexual behavior stands for love: She showered him with kisses. He caressed her gently.
  • sex stands for love: They made love.
  • loving visual behavior stands for love: He can’t take his eyes off of her. She’s starry-eyed.

Related Concepts:

“Some of the most important related concepts for love include liking, sexual desire, intimacy, longing, affection, caring, respect, and friendship. Related concepts can be placed along a gradient of their centrality in the definition of an emotion concept, such as love; some of them appear to be inherent parts of the conception of love (such as liking and affection), some of them are only loosely associated with it, in that they are a part of some idealized model of love (such as friendship or respect), and some fall in between (such as caring).”[2]


[1] Zoltán Kövecses, “Metaphor and Emotion,” in The Cambridge Handbook of Metaphor and Thought, ed. Raymond W. Gibbs, Jr. (New York: Cambridge, 2008), 380.

[2] Ibid., 382.