Spirit and Body
Spirit and body are two important ideas that have been involved in spiritual history for centuries. Concerns with both spirit and body are seen throughout the scriptures in many religious traditions. We don’t have to look to scriptures to find awareness and discussions of these two themes. Every one of us should know a little bit about both spirit and body.
We should know something about the body because each of us has---or is---a body. The body is an amazing thing. It is partly a machine. It is mostly to me, anyway, a miracle. I never cease to be amazed at my body---how it works, etc. The body clearly grows and develops. I marvel at the eight pound little baby. Within a year that baby’s body doubles in size! It is a good thing that is not our annual compounding rate! All things being normal, our early third of life means we have a body that is capable of so much physical prowess. Even in the middle third of life, we are capable of so much. Even today, many of us are graced with bodies that are aging, but not yet worn out.
Of course, we get sick. Sadly, some of us have maladies that make our embodied living more taxing than is true for the normal man or woman. We can ignore our bodies and have them go to pot---literally and figuratively. There are a variety of ways to view our bodies. Certainly our culture “sells” younger, virile, attractive bodies. As such, our culture is really selling some kind of self-image. Our view of our bodies forms a significant piece of our self-image.
And then, there is spirit. That idea is more complex. I think most folks have some sense that they have or are a spirit. It is easy to talk about someone’s “spirit.” We describe people who play sports or music with “spirit.” It is easy to condemn someone for going through the motions---playing or working with no spirit. However, when folks are forced to define spirit, it is more difficult than defining our body.
In all the classical languages, spirit also means “wind” or “breath.” As I understand it, spirit is the breath of life---the animating force that makes us go. In fact, one of the Latin words for spirit is animus. The animus animates us! For those of us who are spiritual, the spirit also points to the Divinity. Christians talk about the Spirit or the Holy Spirit. Personally, I like to think about the Energy of the universe in terms of Spirit. That Energy animates the universe much like my animus animates me and makes me go. In this sense I can talk about the world being animated---being spirited.
Too often in the religious history of these two ideas, they have unfortunately been separated. Too often they are thought about as two different “things.” I join other scholars in seeing this as an unhealthy split. This split has been the reason that so much of religious history in the West---in Christianity, Judaism and Islam---it has been too easy to dismiss the body as important. Or even worse, people identify the body as the problem. The body is sometimes seen as the source of temptation and sin.
It is a short step to assume the body is bad and the spirit is the good element. This can lead to a puritanical perspective and, in my estimation, a warped way of viewing the body and living a healthy life. To speak in this way, is to recognize this might be a comparable spiritually sick view of the body that matches our culturally sick view of the body.
Our spirits are good. And so are our bodies. It is easy to think about the crucial role body plays in life. We are literally born of a body. Mother is woman, womb and wonder. From mother came I. Our earliest nourishment comes from mother’s breast---a very embodied experience. Of course, in our culture the kid moves to the bottle fairly quickly, but think about the power of the word, “nursing” as it plays its role in life.
Life is embodiment, to be sure. But it is not without spirit, too. We would have no body without spirit. In fact, I like to talk about myself as “embodied spirit.” They are not separate things; I am the integration of body and spirit. They are me---to use poor English! Alan is not a body, nor simply spirit. I am embodied spirit.
We could ask, where is God in all this? When are we going to get to God? I reply the whole discussion is about God. My view of God is that God is immanent in everything that is. God is “inside” everything that exists. In this sense God is like the Spirit that animates the world. It is as if the world is God’s body. God animates that cosmic body. God may be “out there.” But God is very much “in here,” too.
Practically speaking, this means that I can become aware of the Spirit of God by becoming more aware of myself---my body and my spirit. If I can become more aware, then I can begin to pay attention to how that Spirit of God is at work in my own spirit and body. With this attentiveness, I am able to begin to act more spiritual in my life and actions.