Adapted from Chapter Three of Barbara Brown Taylor's book, "An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith"
At Easter, his "most transcendent moment," Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us that Jesus "came back wearing skin. He did not leave his body behind."
The Incarnation, then, isn't only about a little baby being born in Bethlehem.
That should tell us something about how important our bodies are, and how valuable we humans are, too.
"I have the immense joy of being a member of a race in which God became incarnate," writes Thomas Merton, as he gives new meaning to the words, "hidden beauty": "There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun."
"I live here. This is my soul's address," Barbara Brown Taylor writes, and she wonders at our bodies' vulnerability, fragility, and resilience, their ability to heal, and to give birth.
"Yet here we sit," she writes, "with our souls tucked away in this marvelous luggage, mostly insensible to the ways in which every spiritual practice begins with the body."
It's not just about us, of course. Taylor says God loves the bodies of all of God's children, and wants us to care about every one of them, too, for we all have skin…"and breath and beating hearts," and our bodies connect us with one another.
Was that why Jesus talked about justice and compassion, and healed people, too? "Read from the perspective of the body," Taylor writes, [Jesus'] "ministry was about encountering those whose flesh was discounted by the world."
"Deep suffering makes theologians of us all," Taylor writes: "The questions people ask about God in Sunday school rarely compare with the questions we ask while we are in the hospital.…Why me? Why now? Why this?"
And the answers to those questions may be found more in silent, compassionate, physical presence than in carefully worded catechisms or creeds: answers that can be felt rather than articulated. Our bodies often know how to respond better than our minds do: isn't that why we fall speechless, or weep, or laugh, or dance?
And speaking of laughter, and dancing: Taylor says great questions arise, too, in the experiences of pleasure. "Who deserves the way a warm bath feels on a cold night after a hard day's work? Who has earned the smell of a loved one, embracing you on your first night home?"
Any parent who has watched their child sleeping knows exactly what Taylor is talking about here. Much of what I know about God, I learned from loving my children so much that my heart felt like it would burst.
We get a sense of Jesus' priorities, and his appreciation for our embodied existence, when we observe his activities on the night before he died, when he taught his disciples to wash one another's feet, to sit at the table together and break bread, and to remember that he did these things, too. "Jesus gave them things they could get their hands on," Taylor writes, "things that would require them to get close enough to touch one another."
Doesn't that tell us what we need to be about in the world, and in the church: serving, and sharing, and not so much ideas, but the "stuff" of life?
In this TMI ("Too Much Information") culture, Taylor says people need "to know more God in their bodies. Not more about God. More God."
United Church of Christ author Tony Robinson agrees. "People want to experience the divine, the sacred, the holy," he writes. "They are dying for want of grace, wonder, mystery, and not for want of by-laws, committees, and sign-up lists." Is the church listening?
How do you pray? What the world calls mundane may provide the best moments for our brains to ease up and our bodies to take over. Taylor speaks poetically of hanging laundry on the line as "good work, this prayer….good prayer, this work." The things we do "that sustain life" are places and times that we can meet God, the Giver of all life.
I have been surprised rather late in life at the quiet pleasure of watching my Yorkshire Terrier drink his water and eat his food, the most everyday of activities, and yet they sustain him, and connect me with ordinary expressions of care for another creature, keeping me in the rhythm of life.