I had my annual physical exam this week (the early verdict is that I'm not yet ready for my family to call the undertaker) and was pondering the marvels of the human body and what religion says about that. (I took the photo here at the "Bodies Revealed" exhibit at Union Station in Kansas City last year.)
Psalm 139 has it right when it says that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made." This does not deny or negate the role of science or the natural processes by which human bodies come into being. But it does acknowledge an ultimate source, or guarantor, of those processes and of the loving and creative mind and heart that ultimate source possesses.
Indeed, the more we know about the human body, the more in awe we are of its intricacies and the way in which its parts work together.
Later, Christians were to describe the body as the "temple of the Holy Spirit," drawing on the sixth chapter of the Apostle Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth. As that temple, we are instructed to preserve, protect and defend that body -- to use presidential inauguration language still ringing in our ears. This understanding of the body should lead us not only to respect our own bodies but also to respect the bodies of all other people. Would that it more often did that.
In Islam there's a fascinating passage in the 23rd chapter, or surah, that describes how God "created the human being from an extraction of clay; then We made him into seminal fluid in a stopping place, secure,then We created a clot from seminal fluids, then We created tissue from the clot, then We created bones from tissue, then We clothed the bones with flesh, then We caused another creation to grow." (I've given you a link above that has three different translations of the Qur'an. The translation I used here today is The Sublime Quran, translated by Laleh Bakhtiar.)
There's even this Web site that expounds on Islam's understanding of God's creation of the body drawn from this chapter.
I'm not a Muslim, but as I read this account, what I believe it is affirming is the divine intention to create humanity and to live in relationship with that creation.
I was playing outdoors the other day with one of my grandsons, hitting a ball back and forth with paddles. And I was watching closely as he was learning to coordinate the so-far untrained muscles of his body to be able to put paddle to ball at just the right instant. His brain was guiding his muscles, which were creating muscle memory. Marvelous.
If you've already broken your New Year's resolution to treat your own body with more respect this year, perhaps it will help to remember how important bodies are in theology. Indeed, in Christian theology, we affirm the ultimate "resurrection of the body," which is a far different idea from the old Greek notion of the immortality of the soul. But that's a subject for another day.
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FAITH IN THE OBAMA ERA
After yesterday's inauguration of President Barack Obama, I participated in a panel discussion at St. Paul School of Theology about what the new presidency may mean for public theology and the relationship between church and state. One of my fellow panelists was Wallace Hartsfield II, pastor of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church and professor of Hebrew Bible at St. Paul. I thought you might want to hear (about 10-plus minutes) his remarks about the need to rethink respect, reconciliation and righteousness through the use of commitment, compassion and cooperation. So click on the link below. (And just ignore the applause at the start of the tape. It wasn't for me.)