What’s the body got to do with God?

stteresa-ecstasyof-gianlorenzobernini-500I was talking about the body last week at a Halloween party.  A friend had asked me, “If God is transcendent, how are our bodies important for connecting to God? Can’t we just use our reason? Maybe even emotion?  What’s the body got do with it?”  I was surprised by my reaction.  My gut instinct was to aggressively defend the sacred nature of the body–I’m a feminist! Feminists care about bodies! I must salvage the body! Instead of simply pouncing on this genuine friend with my feminist enthusiasm, I began to explore the origin of his question. “Haven’t you experienced God through physical ritual and practice? Through spiritual disciplines of fasting or feasting? Maybe through sexual desire even?”

“No. Not really.”

Hmmph. For some reason, instead of charging back with those pent up imperatives, I began to think about how I came to take for granted the seemingly obvious role of the body in my spirituality. Was this rooted in my Catholicity–in my belonging to a faith characterized by the standing,  kneeling, eating, drinking, singing, and moving around of the Sunday liturgy? Or was it simply a personal reaction to all the body-bashing I find in Catholic sexual ethics?  Was it an outgrowth of the Church’s social teachings about the goodness of creation and our affirmation of embodied life?

I brought these questions with me as the school week started.  On Tuesday nights, I gather with a few other first year students at the Harvard Div School to discuss primary texts written by Christian mystics. While a number of tangental topics arose, as usual–prayer, scripture, liturgy–the mystics kept bringing me back to these questions of the body. Continue reading