Although Eastern religions have many spiritual practices centered on the body yoga, tai chi, aikido, breathing exercises, walking meditation my birth religion, Christianity, in theory, has the highest theology of the body among all religions. The incarnation of Jesus proves that God loves human bodies and wants us to honor them. Jesus didn't proclaim the immortality of the soul; he spoke of the resurrection of the body. When St. Paul saw that some early Christians were regarding the body as a foe, he wrote: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?" (I Corinthians 6: 15)
For some reason, the evidence that Christians should hold a positive view of their bodies didn't take when I was growing up. Other attitudes that put the mind above the body and regard the flesh as prone to sin undermined my appreciation of the physical. Protestant theologian Sallie McFague in The Body of God puts it this way: "The most prevalent spiritual disease of our time is not wanting to be here, not wanting to be in a physical body."
That's why I've found that experiences which enable me to embrace my physical self as a fine companion, a capable mediator of my experience of the world, a vehicle for transformation, and a temple of God can be exhilarating.
I discovered that one day when we were vacationing in Antigua. While exploring the rocks by the beach, I slipped on some algae and fell down, hitting my head hard. There was a good one-inch gash in my scalp. The nurse at the hotel took care of the wound, declaring that it was not very deep and did not require stitches. But the next morning there was blood on my pillow. The Antiguan maid said, "No problem. I'll clean it, I heard you cut your head."
A few days later, I met her in the hallway and was about to share the good news that my head had healed when she beat me to the point. "Preacherman," she said with a big smile, "you have good flesh."
Good flesh! Those were the sweetest words I had ever heard! I told my wife, Mary Ann, that I wanted to put them on a t-shirt!
I have always struggled with a negative view of my body. As a boy I was just skin and bones and was often ridiculed. Now my body had created a miracle. It was a simple one, a cut healing quickly, but it helped me appreciate my body as I had never done before.
Since this miracle, I have incorporated some practices into my daily life to celebrate my good flesh. Here are some for you to try:
• First thing in the morning, say a prayer blessing your body and its energies. Thank God for each organ, blood vessel, gland, bone, and muscle. Joyce Rupp in Out of the Ordinary offers a prayer that focuses on hands:
"May these hands touch all life with reverence and gratitude. May these hands reach out with care to others. May these hands be willing to receive from others."
• The great dancer Martha Graham called the spine the tree of life. Stand tall in the presence of your God today.
• While working at a desk or a computer, take a few minutes to vigorously rub your face and shake your hands to remind yourself not to forget your body when you are using your mind. You might say: "Clean me, shake me, make me yours always, Lord."
• Come to the Lord as a little child. Skip down the street.
• Make your meals times to remember your body's needs and gifts; don't distract yourself with work or television.
• Occasionally, kiss your wrist and say the words "Good Flesh" to remind yourself that your body is a temple of God.