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

Winter Wasteland (Pretensions)


This is part of a series of prayers through Isaiah 7:14 for those who feel that they cannot celebrate the Advent season (Intro, Carols, Pretensions, Immanuel).

“O Come, thou rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny.”

Undo our tangled emotions.
Sew a smooth cloth to dress our wounds.
                                            to sling our sprains.
                                            to clean up our messes.

Longsuffer our distrusting hearts.
               We are eager to point out your absence.
               We are ready to fall on our swords.
               We are ready to coerce your attention
                                  any way we can.

Prop up our unshakeable faith
               which is gone in the morning,
               which carries all of our unspoken expectations
               and all our purity and pretension.

It is not easy for us, Lord.

We live in an open world,
               and are threatened.
We pray to a closed heaven,
               and feel ignored.
It is not easy for us to sit still
               while you do … what, exactly?

Give us a miracle.
                 a sign from you.
                 a way to test you.
                 a sense of self.
                 a word.
                 a reason to walk away.
                 a reason to stay.
                 a little help.

“A virgin shall conceive
               and bear a son.”


Thanksgiving for Our Earthly Home


“In fact, it has been remarked by some that Hobbits only real passion is for food. A rather unfair observation, as we have also developed a keen interest in the brewing of ales, and the smoking of pipe-weed. But where our hearts truly lie is in peace and quiet and good-tilled earth. For all Hobbits share a love of things that grow.” –J. R. R. Tolkien

In circles of our faith, there are often rewards given for taking everything to the spiritual perspective – pats on the back, church authority, probably even medals and trophies somewhere. That is a good thing. I would be hopeless in a church that put its stock in the five senses. And yet, sometimes, there is a reticence to enjoy the sensible gifts of God for what they are: expressions of his love to us (Matthew 6:11; James 1:17). So, here is a prayer for the few times, as sojourners in this wilderness age (Gal. 1:4; Heb. 3:13), we happen to find ourselves in a pleasurable moment in which neither lament nor ascension seem fitting.

There are times when earth does feel like home,
                          when that jazz progression melts us,
                          when that savory bite enraptures us,
                          when crisp air and fall leaves tranquilize us,
                          when sun, breeze, and blueberry pie,
                                               activate our senses just right
                          when hearth is ablaze,
                                               with beloved to join us.

Steady our hearts and minds long enough to linger there.
For our “Christian” culture would have us rush past such fading things:

            “When every home burns, the great city is our hope!”
            “When jazz progressions cease, the final trump sounds!”
            “When bellies groan with emptiness, we look to your table!”
            “When winter death inevitably conquers autumn,
                               we await the resurrection of springtime!”
           “When our sense capacities rot in the soil, we will see him face-to-face!”

Lord have mercy.
Shepherd, help us to graze in your green pastures.

Stop us from scrambling to the not-yet,
            lest we, God forbid,
                        enjoy the earth
                        you have made for us to enjoy.
Block us from blitzing to the transcendent.
Silence our insistence to charge into the heavenly.
Halt our haste to move from here to there.

Teach us to understand the gospel.

            You move from there to here.
            You come from heaven to earth.
            You condescend, rushing to us
                        as a mother rushes
                        to tend to her newborn.
Reanimate this spontaneous, enjoyable, tangible, fleshly “now”
            with your approving, delighting, unexpecting arm
                                                                 around our shoulder.

Laments and qualifications can wait.
Thanksgiving is meant for this moment.

Thank you, Lord, for ministering to us,
                             for caring for us,
                             for caring about us,
                             for this earthly bounty
                             – whether a sublime feeling,
                             some sandy bread,
                             or a copious banquet –
                             for healing us,

Thank you for this momentary rest in an often restless life.

Let us take these moments for what they are:
                             your sensible grace to us for today.