Over the weekend I got into a conversation with a really brilliant woman about what it might mean to be human right now, in this moment. If you heard Sister Ilia Delio speak a few years ago, you might remember her saying that in the 14 billion year unfolding of our planet, humans are the last word of an incomplete sentence in the last volume of history. We are a blip. We are babies in this whole evolutionary cycle. And yet we are conscious enough to actually understand deep time. While I take solace in knowing everything comes from something and evolution is unfinished, in knowing that I am a small part of something so vast, it is also troubling to grapple with purpose. As far as we know we are the only sentient creatures who use symbolic consciousness to make art and tell stories. It doesn’t mean we are necessarily superior, but it might mean we are called to use our consciousness in an intentional way. Maybe we are called to observe and record so that we can transform.
If asked, I think most conscious beings have an opinion about how they want their bodies to be treated. Think even of the animal who bites back if it is abused. This is a form of protest. We don’t have an agreed upon ethic that all bodies deserve the utmost care, so it remains in the fuzzy arena of personal morality. In many cultures women’s bodies have varying degrees of say so in how they want to be treated. I read an article that labeled the #MeToo movement a feminist liberal agenda...as if only liberal women get raped, assaulted, or molested. We’ve just witnessed an incredibly intelligent woman be dismissed and even ridiculed for having the audacity to speak the truth about her body. She should have been championed. Not only because she spoke up 30 years later, but also because she kicked out and protested when she was first assaulted. Instead at least 51% of our governing body dismissed her experience as untrue or unimportant. She wanted her body to be dignified, and it was not. It is the same, I think, with black bodies. Our democracy was founded on harm done (first) to indigenous and (second) to African bodies. Poet and Playwright Claudia Rankine asked her friend what it’s like being the mother of a black son. “The condition of black life is one of mourning,” she said. That resonates with me. Though I am not black, I am raising biracial sons. As a woman I know the feeling of not having a total say in how my body is treated (I don’t know very many men who walk down the street and get unsolicited catcalls), but as a white person I do not live in fear of being suspect. I don’t want to create that fear in my sons, but I must also live in reality. A reality that too often falls short of our best hope. I want my boys to have a say so in how their bodies are treated, but I am aware that they might not always be afforded that dignity. The onus will be on them to have a stronger sense of self than anyone who might disparage them. A black man in America knows what’s at stake if he even remotely loses his cool with an unkind policeman. A woman in America knows what’s at stake if she wears a skirt too short. “They had it coming,” we will say. It shouldn’t be this way.
The bodies we are given are our sacred forms. I don’t mean this in a puritanical, “don’t have sex before marriage” kind of way, but as an echo of the Aristotelian view of form. Aristotle is in a long line of philosophers who believe the soul is of the sacred “whole” that gives our bodies life. Call it stardust, call it God, call it cosmos, but without this little bit of the divine in us, our “essence” as it were, we would not know to seek our truest selves. Each and every body, then, deserves to be seen as sacred. Every time we disparage or harm a person’s body, we are dismissing part of their essence.
In his time, Teilhard de Chardin understood the universe to be both spiritual and physical. Matter cannot exist without form, and form is always spiritual. To be human is to have a form, what we call our body. Thus, our bodies are always spiritual.
What will make this truth matter to all of us? What will recall us to the very essence of being human?
At this point in time it is not enough to be non racist. We are called to be anti racist.
It is not enough to live on the earth. We must see ourselves as part of the earth.
It is not enough to have a body. We must love our body and speak from its essence.