2 Epiphany, January 14
The boy Samuel is ministering to the Lord. As a mere youth, he is, we imagine, strong and beautiful, fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14). Eli, the priest he serves, is an old man, confined to his bed, staring at a dark world though dim eyes. The body is as beautiful as it is frail, perfect and imperfect, a clay vessel, and yet a temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells. This is holy ground.
“For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed” (Ps. 139:13-16). The birth of a beautiful and perfect infant will bring such thoughts to mind, that the God of goodness and love is at work in the substance of bodies and the deep emotions of love. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
The Incarnation is not, however, a simple yes to the world as it is, and the bodies we have and the passions we feel. God’s yes affirms the body as an instrument of divine work, or rather as an instrument being transformed for this work by the infusion of sanctifying grace, which purifies and orders all want and desire, so that both God and all creation are valued, esteemed, and work in perfect union with God’s love for all created beings. To love as God loves is a refusal to love any less or any more than providence appoints. Indeed, the body and the world may be loved in ways excessive and extreme, avaricious and consuming, causing misery and death. Love may also be too cool, too reserved, too restrained in precisely the places where God’s fire would be. Loving as God loves, loving our bodies and all beings as God loves them, is the work of a lifetime, and even that will not remove all traces of shame and sorrow and regret. Even so, the body remains the beloved temple of the Holy Spirit.
God so loved the world. God shows his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, while we were yet burdened with moral guilty and physical frailty, Christ came to forgive and to heal and to rescue, the fulfillment of which is coming at a time we do not know. Yet in Christ we have a down payment, a guarantee, a new covenant of this new life. So we know by faith that God knows: Where I sit, when I rise, all my thoughts, my path, my resting, all my ways, my inward parts, in my mother’s womb, my frame, my unformed substance” (Ps. 139:2-16). As God looks, he sees with deep love.
God wants the body as a resting place for the same love that pours everlastingly into the boundless life of the coeternal Son. God looks to the body’s emotions, thoughts, words, and actions for the responsive love of the Son to the Father. This can only be if we become sons and daughter of God, which we are by adoption and grace. This can only be if, through days and weeks and years, we grow in grace, being transformed into the temple of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Look It Up
Read Ps. 139.
Think About It
A theological aesthetic of the body takes full account of disease, disability, and death.