As the parent of a soon-to-be-three-year-old, I’m well versed in the universe of picture books. A current bedtime favorite is House for Hermit Crab by Eric Carle. In it, Hermit Crab moves into a new, bigger shell and proceeds to make friends before in the end discovering that he has outgrown his new shell and needs to find another, bigger one.
It’s easy to think Jesus is like Hermit Crab. He is God, and when he came to earth he took on a “shell” of humanity, a shell that he outgrew sometime around Easter and left behind forever. Now, he’s back to being God again, without any of the pesky, physical, visceral trappings of humanity. This way of seeing Jesus, which is probably my default setting, is disastrous.
Last night, Eric and Jenna led us through a thought-provoking discussion of embodied spirituality, the intersections of brain science and spiritual practices. Then, Eric gave flesh to that discussion, leading us through a moving experience of what embodied spirituality actually means. But I was struck, too, by the way Jesus’embodiedness wove its way throughout our time together.
We began by singing for Jesus to ‘speak’, we listened to the powerful voice of Sharon Irving sing the powerful plea for Jesus to ‘walk with me’. Through our Journey, Trials, Sorrows, Troubles, Jesus ‘walk’.
Is it enough for Jesus to be a disembodied God when we’re in Troubles, Sorrows, Trials? Or do we lose something essential if we don’t know the embodied Jesus, the one who is truly, viscerally, really there, walking?
Eric’s words say we do lose something. As he told us, our brains can get stuck in a rut of telling us something is true when it’s patently false. Maybe this is unsurprising, since we live in a fallen world. But the message of hope Eric brought was that even though this is the case, it’s not the end of the story. Our brains – our fallen, mixed up, messed up brains – can actually be re-wired. They can be saved, healed, made whole.
How? When we engage with spiritual practices in our daily rhythms, we are opening ourselves up to the physical touch of the physical Jesus. God is touching our brains, rewiring them to be more in line with the truth: the truth about him, and the truth about us. Take a listen through our podcast or here below for more.
And then, the practice. Eric walked us through a visualization that drove home the tangible, visceral, real-ness of Jesus. Jesus was, literally, speaking with us. He was, literally, walking with us through our Troubles, Sorrows, Trials. The many less-than-dry eyes testified to the real power at work in the Chapel last night. Jesus was there, not as a disembodied force, but as a real person. And that real person had real things to say to us.
I thought afterwards about why that experience was so moving for so many. Why was visualizing Jesus sitting, hugging, talking so powerful? Wouldn’t we all agree that Jesus is ‘with us’ always? What made this special?
Maybe we ‘believe’ that Jesus is always with us, but we mean the disembodied Jesus, Jesus as some sort of benign, ethereal presence vaguely smiling down at us. And maybe that’s fine most of the time. But I know for me, and maybe this is true for you too, the vaguely smiling Jesus floating around somewhere above me and to the right doesn’t cut it in the face of real pain. Because that pain is real; it’s physical; it hurts. And floating-somewhere-up-there Jesus doesn’t have a response beyond churchy platitudes.
But when I visualize Jesus sitting right there, hugging me, walking with me, watching my pain with me and then telling me the truth about it…that’s different. I need a physical Jesus who can physically comfort my physical hurts, a visceral Jesus to soothe my visceral pain, a real Jesus to walk with me through real life. Thank God that’s the Jesus we have.
There was something extra beautiful about Communion last night, coming on the heels (I just accidently typed ‘heals’, maybe that’s better) of such an experience. Because there on the table were the physical, visceral, messy reminders of just how far our God went to be able to understand, to comfort, to heal our pain. God took on a body, a real body, then allowed it to be broken so we could be made whole. It’s easy for that real body to get lost, hazy, but communion grounds it back in reality.
And so, I thought it was fitting that almost the very last words of our liturgy last night came from a classic hymn, sung by the church for centuries, “I am His, and He is mine.” We are embodied creatures, loved, held, comforted by an embodied Jesus.