Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The New Gnostic

 I have to admit that I struggle with a bit of a Gnostic streak.  I've always appreciated the life of the mind a lot more than the life of the body - I'm the one who used to spend recess hiding behind the maintenance shed with a book while everyone else played kickball.

Lately my body's been letting me down in a pretty significant way, making it even harder to appreciate it.  Of course the thing to do when you have trouble appreciating something as a gift from God is to double down on the thanksgiving - but the most I can muster recently is a sort of sarcastic, eye-roll-y prayer of gratitude: "Gee, thanks, God, for this broken piece of crap that you saddled me with.  I REALLY APPRECIATE IT."

I'm working on it.

Christianity, of course, doesn't just recognize that the physical body has some good and beautiful things about it.  It goes a step beyond, recognizing the Incarnation as the defining moment in human history.  When God became man, that wasn't some kind of drastic violation of the order of things; rather, it was when the true order of things was finally revealed.

In fact, even becoming a physical, bodily man wasn't enough for God.  He wants to actually feed us with his Body and and make us part of it.  The whole yucky mess of human life gets drawn into the whole and perfect Body of Christ.

This, of course, can lead us to Gnosticism on a broader scale.  It can feel easy to acknowledge the Body of Christ as a spiritual reality, but it gets tricky when we're confronted with a coughing, smelly, sweaty manifestation of it sitting uncomfortably close to us on the bus.

Pope Francis has encouraged priests to be "shepherds living with the 'smell of their sheep'" - an incredibly powerful image to remind people that Christian love is not just spiritual but corporal.

Over at her blog, Leah Libresco is facilitating a related discussion about disruptive kids in public places generally and at Mass specifically:
...Babies and children are a part of life, even for people who don’t have their own, and it would seem strange to me to have them excluded from people gathering together to form the Body of Christ.
I don’t claim that anything so sacramental is happening on an airplane, naturally, but it does seem strange to expect that this part of our life and community should be kept out of our way.  It’s bad for the parents, who are isolated, but it seems far from salutary for everyone else to have a norm of kids being mostly invisible, unless you’re in one of their spaces, like a playground.
The contemporary form of Gnosticism looks a little different than the ancient one, but is just as insidious.  Ancient Gnostics demonstrated contempt for the body through strict asceticism - but our contemporary view of the body as a useful or pleasurable tool, separated from its messy fruitfulness, shows just as much contempt for our integrated selves and our shared dignity as participants in the Body of Christ.

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