Reflection: May 20 – Pentecost Sunday

Published on May 20th, 2018 by Rev. David Boyd | 0

         One of the lasting legacies of the Western’s Church’s emphasis on the myth of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and the fall of humanity is our suspicion of our bodies. That fall myth relating to Adam and Eve—which I believe is absolutely a false interpretation—has left us with the idea that spirit is good and flesh is bad.  Flesh gets us into trouble.  It tempts us to do things we don’t want to do.  We don’t like the flesh we inhabit.  And I know many people who have spent years in counselling dealing with their own self-view of their embodied selves—me included.

         I don’t know where my own sense of body got distorted.  I was not taught the myth that the created bodily world was bad—at least not in my home. But, it was everywhere in literature, movies, and entertainment.  I grew up at the tail end of the sexual revolution, but all that accomplished—in a gross generalization—was to elevate perfect bodies to the status of gods and goddesses.  Billboards taught us that you had to be like Robert Redford if you were male and Raquel Welch if you were female—I’m dating myself big time here!

         Some time ago, shortly after I graduated from VST, I came across a theologian by the name of James Nelson.  He was an ethicist, long retired now, who took sexuality seriously and offered a theology based on the incarnation, the fact that God became flesh in Jesus.  I found it revolutionary.  This, along with feminist theology with its interpretation of Scripture and the world from a perspective of suspicion of the dominant patriarchal culture, and the growth in queer theology articulated in the United Church in the paper Orientation, Life Styles and Ministry in the late 80’s has helped many of us deal with our attitudes towards our bodies and THE body in general.  It was a relief to not be at odds with my body, even though I still struggle with my own body-image.

         In the last 25 years, there have been a plethora of books and articles and reflections written and offered about the body, from queer theology to body ethics to feminist theology to post-feminist theology to body theology to environmental theology.  One of the things I always appreciated about Eastern Orthodox Christian theology is that there never was an emphasis on the fall of Adam and Eve and the whole original sin idea.  There was a fundamental belief in the East that Adam and Eve represented the essence of humanity and our struggle to find meaning and purpose in life and that we can live in the Garden of Eden with a sense of hope and peace.

         Indeed, the emphasis of Jesus being the Word of God made flesh should have made us more holistic in our attitudes of being made up of mind, spirit/soul and BODY.  After all, we are an incarnational people.  We believe that the Spirit was breathed into us—into our physical bodies—and we came alive.  We believe that Jesus embodied God’s love in some mysterious way that is open to us and that celebrates our bodies as the temples of our spirits and even the temple of THE Spirit.  We need to celebrate our bodies.  That’s one of the things that I’ve appreciated about Queer theology is that there is a celebration of our body; our Pride weekend parade is a celebration of our incarnational selves.

Pentecost, I believe, is also a celebration of our incarnational selves.  It isn’t to be over-spiritualized, which tends to emphasize that being spiritual is more advanced than being incarnational.  The Spirit rested on those early followers and there was a physical reaction—a new birth with the same Spirit animating and giving life. And then there was a new creation of a new community—a new physical community where people lived together, shared their lives and celebrated life.  It was a new, incarnational community of love.

And yes, in the early church, there were attempts to suggest that Jesus wasn’t really a human person, flesh and blood, that he was a phantom.  There was another controversy that said that the spiritual body and the spiritual plane were far more important than the physical.  And the Church said no, that our physical bodies are part of God’s creation and therefore to be celebrated and honoured—the Western Church didn’t always do that well, but we had people like Hildegard of Bingen and St. Francis of Assis to remind us of our incarnational natures and to celebrate the physical world.

So today, we celebrate our Affirm Ministry status, and as we celebrate Pentecost, we celebrate our physical natures and our embodied selves.  We are all temples of the Holy Spirit.  And so, the call for us is to live holistically, to honour our spirits AND our bodies as we live our lives.  We celebrate our incarnational beingness and let go of that image of the perfect body and accept our bodies as they are, perfectly incarnated temples of the Holy Spirit.  And that’s enough!


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