By Steven Norris
The past few weeks have given birth to many funny posts online as people have used humor to deal with the pain of separation and the fear associated with a global pandemic. I saw one that said, “Well, I guess it’s time to change from my nighttime pajamas to my daytime pajamas.” The necessity of staying home has also meant less physical activity for some of us. Many of us are comfort eating and may have a few pounds to shed when this is all over.
I don’t want to shame anyone. God knows, I’m as guilty as the next person. However, it occurs to me that one the most important spiritual practices we might engage in during this time is to care for our bodies. After all, it is our bodies that are under attack by this virus.
Admittedly, the Church has not always done a good job of emphasizing an embodied theology. Too often, guided by the dualism of Greek philosophical thought, we view our bodies as a mere shell for our spirit or soul. Interestingly, the Hebrew Scriptures have a different view of the soul (“nephesh” in Hebrew). According to Hebrew thought, we don’t have a soul. Rather, we are a soul. There are no disembodied souls in Hebrew thought.
Therefore, it strikes me that caring for our bodies during this time might be one way to ground our faith in these days. Could it be that normal, everyday activities might draw us into a deeper realization of God’s presence and ongoing work in these days? For example:
Washing. Whether we’re talking about washing our hands regularly or daily bathing, there is a strong connection between washing and baptism. In baptism, we celebrate the divine cleansing of sin. Could we likewise infuse every act of washing with an echo of baptism and God’s cleansing as well?
Eating. Throughout history, we find strong ties to food and the spiritual life. The Israelites ate manna as they wandered in the desert. Over and over again, Jesus revealed himself around a table – in the bread broken and the cup shared. Could we find in every meal an echo of the Eucharistic nourishment we receive at the Lord’s Table?
Sleep. One of the key commands for the people of God involved a rhythm of work and rest. Could a good night’s sleep be a daily echo of sabbath rest for today?
Exercise (Walking). Could it be that a daily walk might echo the call to journey after God?
Connecting. As creatures created in God’s image, we were created for relationships. Could it be that connecting with a friend or family member over the phone, through a letter, or in an email might remind us that we were created for community and relationship?
The list could go on and on, limited only by one’s creativity. The point is this: it is important to pay attention to our bodies in these days, to see them as a gift from God, and to use them to connect to the Divine reality that permeates our world.
Besides, we are all going to have to wash those pajamas at some point anyway.
*If you are looking for an interesting read during these days, let me suggest Honoring the Body by Stephanie Paulsell or Embracing the Body by Tara Owens, which both look at the ways in which our physical bodies are connected to our spiritual journey.