I recall reading a Protestant theologian many years ago in grad school (Rita Nakashima Brock, if you care to know) who has written passionately about human embodiment and incarnation. Honestly, I have long since forgotten much of the particular book, but I do remember one golden line: the body does not lie.
It’s true, isn’t it? The body does not lie. We can rationalize our way out of aging (“I feel young, and with the right surgery, I look it too”), out of violence (“it’s not really abuse, a little makeup and ibuprofen and I can carry on”), out of illness (“most people my age have chest pains, right?”). Happiness is physically expressed. Anger is physically expressed. Grief is physically expressed. Psychologists are trained to catch these expressions, since the words from the client’s mouth may not match. There is a speaking that the body does, a language, that is starkly honest. Literally, the body cannot lie.
Of course, the mind can. And does. When John Paul II says that the original sin resulted in a seismic disharmony between body and soul, felt and manifested as shame, he says that original sin opened the door toward wanting to live a lie. Thank God, we have the grace of Jesus Christ to help us confront those dark tendencies and realities. But we also have another help to support and receive that grace: the ensouled body, prophet to the self and God’s community.
Body as prophet? One of the phrases that John Paul II used in the audiences was “the prophetism of the body” (and to those who say John Paul II said nothing new, I counter with this phrase!). How is the body a prophet to the self? Well, the body does not lie–which means the body, in its own blunt way, tells the truth. The body is a truth teller. It tells us who we were created to be. That is prophetic work. In a powerful way, the body, even in its fallen and imperfect state, can be a spokesperson for God (that is, a prophet to yourself!).
But the other role of the ancient prophet was to call God’s people back to the covenant. This is even more interesting. How does the body call us to covenant? If you take the body seriously as sign, as a “pre-given language of self-giving and fruitfulness,” then the body points to and expresses the covenant we are called to with God. The body was very precisely made for an exclusive covenant with the other. God’s covenant is nothing if not unmerited gift, and the audiences’ “hermeneutic of the gift” is expressed and seen through the ensouled body!
I do not mean to push this too far–honestly, I am thinking through the implications myself. But today’s gospel, when Jesus Christ says he will send us a Spirit of Truth, got me thinking. Perhaps we can recognize the Spirit of Truth because we were created to welcome truth in our very ensouled bodies. The body as a temple of the Holy Spirit gains a new meaning here: truth holds Truth. We live in a world that needs gentle truth tellers. Perhaps one of the gifts of the theology of the body is recognizing that there is need for courage, but no need for despair: in addition to the Power of God and a Spirit of Truth, we carry the seed of the prophetic word in our very bodies. And that word is “God did not create us to be alone, but for love, healing, and communion.” Good news indeed.
May we all realize the body does not lie, and seek to live in better harmony with its message.
Theology of the Body, Extended is for sale, and I still have a few signed copies. If you’d like to buy it, please, check it out here. Thanks!