Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Body and Soul

I have a confession to make.

The last few days of my life have been about as unspiritual as you can get. Church on Sunday? I was there in body only. I pretty much phoned in my weekly blog reflection on the Gospel lesson. My prayer life -- flatlining.

And the really irksome thing about it all was that I knew this was going to happen. Because it always does, every month. I can almost graph my spiritual highs and lows on a monthly calendar. Whether this is due to sporadically effervescing hormones, or phases of the moon, or some subtle interplay of multiple forces, I don't know; it just happens.

And it bugs me, because part of me hates the idea that my physicality affects my spirituality. Which is very Greek, and very geek, of me. I had to laugh when I read
The Velveteen Rabbi's recent meditation on embodied spirituality, and her use of the term "brain in a jar," because as a kid (a chubby, clumsy kid) I thought that would be a really swell way to live. I remember watching a Star Trek episode about an alien species that had evolved itself into brain-in-a-jar existence, watching William Shatner's frowny-faced soliloquy on the tragedy of it all, and thinking, "I really don't see a problem here, Captain Kirk." Reading some of the Pauline epistles, I rather suspect that he might have found the idea of disembodied existence appealing as well.

This feeling of unease with the soul-body connection seems to be intensifying as I slouch farther into middle age, when my body has a greater tendency to let me down. One morning before work I stared at myself in the mirror -- like the old REM song says, feeling gravity's pull -- pondered my graying hair and thought, "So it's come to this -- I am a bona fide anti-hypertensive-pill-popping, calcium-carmel-chewing, triglyceride-monitoring, saggy-baggy middle-aged broad." It's a little frightening to think that the grinding gears of this jalopy have anything to do with my spiritual life, when it can't even get my blood pressure right.

But, as The Velveteen Rabbi points out, living into God's shalom includes acknowledging that, on the whole, we are "fearfully and wonderfully made." In The Lives of a Cell, Lewis Thomas suggested that, if we truly understood the intricacies and even mysteries of our physicality, we would be staggering around in a constant state of stunned amazement.

I'm trying to get to the "thank you." Part of that is treating myself better -- paying more attention to what I eat; moving more. Part of it is being kinder to myself; learning to give myself permission to have an "off" day once in awhile. That's where the practice of fixed prayer becomes so helpful. The Daily Office is the Daily Office whether I'm in a state of near spiritual ecstasy or just muttering the lines as quickly as possible to get them over with. It's the saying of the prayers, and not my feelings about them at any particular moment, that matters.

And here are some morning prayers, courtesy of The Velveteen Rabbi, that bless our embodiedness. I suppose it doesn't matter how I feel when I pray them either, but I'd like to think I could muster at least a spark of wonder and gratitude, no matter what time of month it is.


Scooper said...

Just remember when you look in the mirror that men can't see the flaws, and thank God for that.

LutheranChik said...

Um...yup...no men looking over my shoulder in the bathroom mirror. And the toilet seat always stays down at my house, too.;-)

steve said...

Thanks for a perspective on spirituality that I, as a man, can only ever be confused about. I'm lutheran pastor from Australia who has just discovered the wonderful and weird of blogs and enjoy yours very much for it's quite joy in true life. I'm currently putting together some resources for an upcoming retreat day on the practice of prayer and wonder if I could quote this post in its entirety as something of im portance for the women present. regards Steve

LutheranChik said...

Go for it, Steve.

BTW, I went to college with a couple of Lutherans from Oz...now, there's a minority group.;-) Nice people; laconic but wry; enjoyed bending an elbow too, which made them fit right in with a bunch of German-Americans.;-)

Rachel said...

This post rings a lot of bells for me -- as you might imagine. :-) There are days when I find the brain-in-a-jar notion appealing, too. (I imagine anyone who raised herself on Heinlein and Gibson would, at least from time to time.) But I'm not sure that's a healthy tendency in me; I want to embrace my body, imperfections and all, as a creation of (and somehow, impossibly, a reflection of) God. Sounds so simple, doesn't it?

Giving oneself permission to have an "off" day, and bearing in mind that daily prayer is useful regardless of whether one's "in the mood" at the time -- yes, yes, and yes. :-)

(Thanks for the links, btw.)