Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Three Bodies

I recently returned from the Poets, Prophets, and Preachers conference. It was a fantastic experience. Rob did an amazing job of setting an elegant table for some really stimulating presentations. Pete Rollins and I were invited to join him, which was an honor and a joy. I loved meeting Pete. I only wish we had had more time together.

I gave two talks there - one entitled "How Technology Shapes the Sermon," and another entitled "You Are the Medium." This second presentation was new material I had never presented publicly. As a result, it generated a few questions.

This post is intended to offer some clarification.

In this presentation I argued that we as people are the most powerful medium that God could have chosen to convey God's message to the world. I then proceeded to examine the medium of the human being. One simple way to think about it, but not the only way, is that the human being is comprised of three parts or "bodies." The same way the element of H20 has three aspects (ice, water, and vapor), the human being could be thought of as having three aspects.

I call them:

1) The Physical Body: The part of us comprised of physical cells, which can be measured scientifically and apprehended through the five senses.

2) The Energetic Body: The part of us comprised of emotions, thoughts, desires, etc. These things have an energetic quality to them, they are very real but not easily measured or confirmed by scientific inquiry or the five senses.

3) The Essential Body: This is the deepest part of ourselves, the part that shares the same essence as Christ (Romans 8:11; John 17:22-23; Luke 17:21 to name only a few), and the part of us that is always and already at rest in the open stillness of God's Kingdom of grace, wisdom, compassion, and peace. This is the part of us that is easily and often forgotten. As a consequence, it is most feared and least understood.

In the simplest terms this division corresponds with the Biblical language that describes the same thing:
Physical = Body (soma)
Energetic = Soul (psyche)
Essential = Spirit (pneuma)

I deliberately chose not to use the Biblical language as it is poorly distinguished in the Christian imagination. Most people don't see a difference between "soul" and "spirit." And yet, as best I can tell, the Bible seems to think there is one.

So I intentionally played with new language to help us approach the concept with fresh eyes. While most people expressed deep appreciation, the risk was that my unfamiliar language may lead some to conclude that this is akin to New Age philosophy. Whatever the result, my hope was to rupture our assumptions and open our imaginations while remaining firmly grounded within the Biblical tradition.

In the end, whether one agrees with these divisions or language is of little consequence to me. Mostly, I hope we will come to see the extraordinary gift and powerful medium that you are for God in the world. That is one of the lessons of the incarnation. God prefers using our bodies, our beings. This is not about what you know, what you say, or even what you believe. It's about who you are.