Mystic Mondays July 5th (Tuesday edition)
I had an image this morning as I moved into my day. I have been thinking a lot about body these past few weeks especially as I aborted my usual routine of hiking, walking, yoga and cycling in order to serve at the biennial General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. While I considered it a great privilege to serve as a commissioner to the national meeting my body nearly revolted. With the exception of the 7-block walk between the hotel and the convention center and the distance between the plenary hall and the mess hall I sat and sat and sat some more.
Which gets me back to the image that came to me this morning. I had a picture in my mind of a church that was one part worship center, one part education center, and one part YMCA or health club.
It’s little wonder that this particular image would show up in my consciousness. I graduated from college with a double major as I couldn’t decide between my two great loves—religion and athletics. By the time I finished my degree I had a major in religion as well as sports and fitness center management. Maybe I am just trying to bring these two worlds together for personal reasons, but honestly, I think there is more to it than that.
I was watching a short YouTube program of a conversation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-l40S5e90KYbetween U2’s Bono and the writer of The Message, Eugene Peterson, as they discussed their equal love for the Psalms. In that conversation Bono spoke of the doctrine of the Trinity as Christianity’s way of honoring mind, body and spirit. I was really struck by the natural comparison of these two ways of capturing the fullness of our experience of Life, especially its more sacred qualities.
My experience of keeping the chairs warm at the General Assembly just exaggerated what I already know to be true. The Presbyterian Church excels at honoring the mind, makes a pretty good showing when it comes to honoring the spirit, but fails miserably at honoring the body. It’s as if it doesn’t even enter our conversations. We are good at stepping in when people get sick or are aging or need equal access to our buildings due to disabilities. But the day to day practice of listening to our bodies seems to be largely missing.
If it is true that we also know God through the wisdom of our bodies, I do wonder how it is that we missed this aspect of the mind/body/spirit trinity. Colleges deal with the mind, churches deal with the spirit and health clubs deal with the body, is often how it seems in our overly-compartmentalized society.
I know that I have written about the body a great deal in recent weeks. I don’t think I am beating a dead horse. What feels more accurate to me is that every week that I write takes me just a little further toward the recognition that if we are looking for God or the Sacred, I wonder if we have missed the thing that is right under our nose— that is our flesh and body. I wonder if this is why, in the East, yoga and tai chi and the martial arts aren’t just considered good forms of exercise; they are physical meditations to gain access to the spiritual world.
I remember a vignette that Joseph Campbell shared in the Power of Myth series. He told of a Western man following a Shinto priest around his community. Finally he said, “I have been following you for weeks, but I don’t get your ideology; I don’t get your theology.” The priest paused for a moment and replied, “We don’t have an ideology; we don’t have a theology. We dance.”
To my overly-trained Western rationalistic self I shiver at the prospect of no theology. But if the mind/body/spirit balance is a holy trinity in terms of our spiritual lives I have to wonder if the Shinto priest is at least getting the body and spirit parts right.
I will always cherish the better than a week that I spent at the General Assembly. It is a privilege that comes once once in a lifetime, if that, for most pastors. But if the Shinto priest had shown up at the meeting I wonder if his first impression might have been, “We dance. They sit. Strange religion these Presbyterians!”
Mind, body and spirit. Might Bono be right? Is this the secular version of the Holy Trinity?