Body and Spirit

After watching The Diving Bell and The Butterfly a couple of weeks ago with my Wednesday film group, some questions came up that produced surprisingly vigorous discussion. If you don’t know the film, it’s the story of a major European magazine editor who has a cataclysmic brain event that leaves him paralyzed but for eye movement and a single eyelid that blinks on command. It is based on the true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, famous French journalist and editor of Elle magazine, who at the age of 43 suffered a massive stroke that left him incapacitated physically, but quite intact inside. It’s a fascinating cinematic journey that begins exclusively from Bauby’s point of view (we even see one bad eyelid laced shut–from the inside) and roams through his early confusion to the lucidity he demonstrates in writing a book through a terribly cumbersome and time consuming process. His thought life is paramount, obviously, and a rather innocuous comment from one of our group members about “his imagination allowing him to escape from reality” lead us into a long, heated debate about what else…what is reality? And then on, of course, to the big question…

What is it that makes us human?

One friend feigned being wounded when I accused him of being a dualist. That’s it, we said, no movie next week, we’re getting out our Bibles. So there!

I get passionate about the Jewish idea of unity rather than the Greek idea of duality. My friend Jeffrey and I talk about the mind-body problem whenever we get together (which isn’t nearly enough), and fret over the difference in substance between the material and the immaterial, while marveling over the symbiotic connection between the two. What I get amped up about is the fact that some people argue for the “mere-ness” of the body, that it is “nothing more” than a container, say…a box for the really important part, the soul (or spirit – depending on who you’re talking to). And it’s a long way from this discussion to the banishment of the arts, but there is nothing “mere” about physical life, in my view. Paul is always brought out, the fact that he buffets his body to make it stay put when it’s supposed to, who will deliver me from the body of death, etc. And while that language seems to lend itself to the material-is-no-big-deal advocates, I argue that Paul is referring to the sin nature vs. the Godly-nature (I could say “spiritual nature” but I think that’s leads the wrong direction, too.) The sin nature expresses itself in both my material and immaterial parts, and when the Godly-nature is winning, it expresses itself in both the material and immaterial realms. When “I” battle myself in a Romans 7 sort of way, it’s two sides of Jeff at war, sure enough, but both sides have material and immaterial armies encased in the “me” that is both fighting and at stake.

The point for the artist is that when the body gets kicked into “mere-ness”, the whole notion of incarnation (read art-making, not to mention messiah-arrival) becomes denigrated. Yes, the body changes and sloughs off, but so do thoughts and emotions. The New Testament position is, as I read it, that one day, this current physical body will erode and give way to another body after a terribly inconvenient separation. But the notion of resurrection means that “I” will live again. God created human beings as spirits and bodies, and called us living beings. Without incarnation, whether earthly splendor or heavenly splendor (I Corinthians 15:40), is there a human being at all?

Gets me going…

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