Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Spiritual Bodies

Here's a little remnant of speculative esoterica from a recent meditation, one that came as I prepared to eulogize a recently passed member of my teeny little church. As I searched for a passage to illuminate the Christian understanding of death, I found myself musing over the paradoxical Pauline claim that we have "spiritual bodies."

That particular bit of theological fuddliness comes to us from the letter to the church at Corinth. It's a puzzler because it seems to describe an impossibility. The soma pneumatikon that Paul says is our true nature seems on the surface to be in unresolvable tension with itself.

The word soma describes meatspace reality, our bones and sinews and loins and giblets. It is material. Pneuma is classically understood as spirit, intangible, ineffable, and impossible to quantify and measure. How can it be that they are somehow the same thing? It seems an impossibility.

For those who would see Paul as a dualist, the kind of Christian who thinks Body=Bad and Spirit=Good, this passage is a serious stumbling block. And for good reason. Paul, being of a semitic persuasion, could not be further from that binary understanding of being. This existence matters for Paul. It matters infinitely. If it did not, then our actions in this short span of being would have little relevance to our eternity. As it is, though, this life is the seed, containing the fullness of our eternity within itself.

As Paul describes it, our spiritual body is different from flesh, but it is also different from our psyche.

As I read Paul with unabashedly mystical eyes, I hear him speaking to a self that transcends self. The boundaries of flesh and the boundaries of individuation do not define the soma pneumatikon. Instead, my sense of that reality is that it is the totality of our transpersonal being. Our awareness of pneuma, of the Spirit, is at it's most essential about our connectedness with both Being Itself and other beings. That would seem to give a particular shape and form to the seeming paradox Paul describes.

Our spiritual bodies are the fullness of our place in being, as our actions and intentions play their way across inanimate being and through the other seemingly discrete selves that we encounter. Those influences are permanently part of the reality of creation, from the intense passions and anguishes and joys of our first love to that cutting remark we offered to our lazy, good-for-nothing daughter to the careless touch of a hand brushing across a painted wall. Those things and their echoes and ripples are part of our eternity, as surely as the hands that type this are part of me.

We do not perceive them as such now, of course. We can't begin to fully grasp who we are. But we're on the other side of the veil.

Fortunately, I had the good sense not to ramble on about this at the funeral.