I have a confession: I often think of myself as a ghost. I don’t do this consciously, needless to say, but there is something about my self-identity that tends to forget I have a body. As a child, I was bony and awkward, but intelligent. While my friends moved with grace and agility, I kept away from team sports, and excelled in the world of brain and exams.
I lived for several years in Oxford, a world of floating philosophies, where dead people’s ideas become more real than your stomach’s rumble to be fed.
“Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” Jesus – Luke 24:39
My body has so often been an inconvenience, all the more so as my health has declined and my world has become smaller. As my physical abilities have been stripped from me, I have clung to the world of ideas. When I am just a ghost, a disembodied collection of thoughts, I can forget the things that I have lost: the exhilaration of running on a cold day, dancing exuberantly to loud music. It serves me well to be a ghost.
But sometimes I need to be reminded that I am flesh and bones. I want to distance myself from my aching body and distract myself from the pain, but It’s better for my health to listen to my pain at the warning early stages. If I am reading my iPhone at the dinner table, even for a short time, I lose the gift of spontaneity and connection with others, the noise and sights and tastes. I want to pretend that I am not body, but in doing so I lose the blessing of it, as well as the curse.
God did not appear as a floating idea, he came and breathed oxygen, ate and drank, laughed. He sweated, excreted, ached. Reading Tara Owens’ book, Embracing the Body, reminded me that for God to have chosen to wear flesh means not just God humbling himself, but our physical bodies are honoured and dignified. She writes this: “God became flesh, and flesh became God.” (p. 42). We choke over the second part, and it needs exploring and defining, but at its root it points towards the redemption of our bodies.
God did not design us to be disembodied ideas and emotions, and when Jesus is resurrected, he comes as flesh. He eats fish on the shore with his disciples. He tells them to remember him, not with solitary meditation, but in a meal with friends, talking, laughing, chewing bread, gulping wine.
This year, I am excited to be well enough, for the first time in five years, to be at church for Easter Sunday. I’m averaging less than one church appearance a year at the moment, and it may be all my health can manage this year, but I want to make it count. Half of me feels excited, that this is a huge Big Thing, but half of me is also laughing at the relatively insignificant way to spend my precious time: sitting inside a building with my church family, listening, singing (or humming if my energy gives out), chewing bread, gulping wine, remembering. It is so earthy, so physical and humble. It also happens to be what Jesus, the one who spent his few resurrected days in meals with his friends, commanded us to do.
This Easter, I am re-discovering what it means to be a body, not just a brain, and I am thankful that I worship someone who knows the joy and pain of this.
I will chew bread, I will gulp wine, I will remember.
I can’t wait.