2 Corinthians 4:7-15
"Embodied Spirituality" is a buzz word floating through many contemporary spiritual circles. It arose as a corrective response to the massive and crippling personal problems caused by the rejection of the body. An embodied spirituality highlights the Christian awareness that the human body is a locus of spiritual revelation and divinization. This spirituality is biblically grounded in the mystical experience unfolded by St. Paul in the first reading:
We hold this treasure in earthen vessels,
that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.
We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. (II Corinthians 4: 7-10)
An embodied spirituality regards the body as the home of the complete human being. Once we overcome the prevailing dualism between matter and spirit, the body can no longer be seen as the enemy. It is a treasured earthen vessel and a physical reality in which we live. The distinguished Jesuit theologian, Teilhard de Chardin, speaks of his conversion experience as the discovery that matter and spirit are two dimensions of one reality. Christian statements about the incarnation never allude to the "entrance" of Spirit into our bodies, but to Spirit "becoming" flesh. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh" (John 1:1, 14).
An embodied spirituality considers the body to be a source of spiritual insight. Physical sensations and impulses can be misleading. Yet they can also be genuine sources of spiritual insight. St. Paul’s statement that "the life of Jesus" can "be manifested in our body" suggests that the body is a legitimate and reliable source of spiritual insight in its own right. In other words, the meaning of life is not merely something known intellectually by the mind, but is an experience to be felt in the depths of our flesh.
Fr. Joe Mitchell, CP is the director of the Passionist Earth & Spirit Center in Louisville, Kentucky.