Tuesday, August 7, 2012

According to the Flesh--Anonymous

“The great principle of happiness consists in having a body.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 82)

It’s no small task to place my empty thoughts into proper context with the historic struggles of humanity to live (let alone comfortably) within their own skin. I won’t try. Suffice it to say that we are born into bodies of flesh and blood and bone. We are, in varying degrees, accepting of our state of being in this probationary period. Our bodies and our opinions on our bodies might be represented as a string twisted into an impossible knot. Have you ever seen a ball of necklaces and jewelry found spun together? That’s the image I’d like to use here. We live in the locus of this intersected mass. What does one do with a ball of jewelry? It’s useless unless it’s properly dispersed. One could melt it all down, I suppose, if one knew that all of the jewelry were pure. Otherwise you’d waste it all for its impurities. What do we do with a ball of jewelry? We release it, piece by piece, until we can utilize or discard its individual properties. It’s my intention to illustrate how we might best work out this knotty body issue. We’ve got to behold the knot in its entirety, then assess which end to tug on, and then loose the tension of all of that strained matter.

Some of us merely tolerate our clay tabernacles. Some cherish them. Some are ambivalent and, thus, unfortunately unaware. I am of the opinion that everybody is always, constantly, trying very hard to do something. Whether it be our best or our worst, we are predisposed to always be at work. I also hold the opinion that we are endowed with the Godly attribute of continuance and progression. It’s the law of natural selection: we are programmed to survive and to become better, that our progeny might survive. It stands to reason, then, that as we approach the knotty conundrum of our bodies, we would want to work it out so thoroughly as to not be beset by it to the point that we expire. So we set about working at the knot, picking at loose ends, digging at embedded loops, testing the flex and flow of the interlocking weave. We are trying very hard, of course, to work it out. But we pull at loose ends that bind the knot tighter. We finagle loops that become stuck in traction. We stare at the knot until it grows larger than us. We work very hard at accomplishing nothing. And we become so discouraged that we sometimes seek to destroy the knot.

American culture – that great bodiless monstrosity for which we are both caretakers and victims – has the tendency to sequester issues of bodies (from objectification to vindication) into a distinctly feminine sphere. I am having ethical problems making that broad of a statement, but as it is the basic fundamental building block to much of our discussions today, I feel it’s a necessary evil. I want to bring this up here rather quickly because it’s important to note that issues of bodies are a universal concern. Brigham Young said: “Our bodies are all important to us, though they may be old and withered, emaciated with toil, pain, and sickness, and our limbs bent with rheumatism, all uniting to hasten dissolution, for death is sown in our mortal bodies. The food and drink we partake of are contaminated with the seeds of death, yet we partake of them to extend our lives until our allotted work is finished, when our tabernacles, in a state of ripeness, are sown in the earth to produce immortal fruit” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 87). Our bodies are fundamental to us all and it’s a fallacy to assume that any issue concerning the body is mutually exclusive to a gender or sex. Issues might be sexed or gendered, but that certainly doesn’t mean an issue is only applicable to one sex or gender.

As an aside: Jesus Christ even dealt with issues of the body. In Alma 7, the prophet Alma is teaching a group of people who have never before heard of Jesus Christ or his gospel. While explaining who Jesus Christ is, he discusses, in broad strokes, Christ’s earthly life. One of the things he stresses is that Christ “will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:12). Jesus Christ, redeemer of the world, the Christ, divinity, needs to learn how to succor his people according to the flesh.

And so we are, females and males, all struggling with a knot of bodily functions, perceptions, proclivities, and emotions while here on Earth. It may be a comfort to know, however, that the problematic question of the body is not eternal. Brigham Young continues: “Yet, if we live our holy religion and let the spirit reign, it will not become dull and stupid, but as the body approaches dissolution the spirit takes a firmer hold on that enduring substance behind the veil, drawing from the depths of that eternal Fountain of Light sparkling gems of intelligence which surround the frail and sinking tabernacle with a halo of immortal wisdom” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 87). Brigham Young here is saying that as we release our relentless grip on the knot, as we prepare to leave behind a lifetime of hard work on a temporary residence, we will find our spirits strengthened and enhanced in order to best meet the afterlife.

Our LDS theology enlightens us to a liberating truth: “After the body and spirit are separated by death, what, pertaining to this earth, shall we receive first? The body; that is the first object of a divine affection beyond the grave. We first come in possession of the body. The spirit has overcome the body, and the body is made subject in every respect to that divine principle God has planted in the person. The spirit within is pure and holy, and, by and by, will have the privilege of coming and taking the body again… [W]hen we are prepared to receive our bodies, they are the first earthly objects that bear divinity personified in the capacity of the [person]. Only the body dies; the spirit is looking forth” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 571). Bodies are a divine gift. They are the very first thing restored to us in the afterlife. They are the precursor to eternal life, and they are the sine qua non of immortality. They are evidence, here on Earth, of divinity in the making.

Our spirits overcome our bodies – a rather bellicose sounding word (to my ears), but one that denotes ownership and control. “The body is made subject” is a beautiful concept. As we struggle to deal with bifurcation of the self, between soul and body, we must realize that acknowledging the Otherness of our own bodies is a pathway towards eternal progression. When we embrace and live eternal truths, we make the body subject. In the eternities, we will acknowledge and treat the body as a subject, not an object. We’ll live forever without self-objectification. It’s a fascinating bit of doctrine, one that reveals a Heavenly Father intimately connected and concerned with the needs of His children. How large is the knot? It is not larger than this life

We will dwell in the eternities in the same flesh we either hate or love today. We must not take for granted the doctrine that our bodies and spirits are separate. Brigham Young states: “There is life in the material of the fleshly tabernacle, independent of the spirit given of God to undergo this probation” (Discourses, p. 566). We are us, you see, and not the physical matter which composes us. “There is life in all matter, throughout the vast extent of all the eternities; it is in the rock, the sand, the dust, in water, air, the gases, and in short, in every description and organization of matter, whether it be solid, liquid, or gaseous, particle operating with particle” (ibid). Basically, our bodies are about as inconsequential, elementally and physically, as a rock. We aren’t made, physically, of special stuff. We are carbon and oxygen. We are star stuff. But our spirits were breathed into the dust, and thus we became. How large is the knot? Not larger than us.

So now that we have the knot somewhat in our sights, we may accurately grasp it and turn it over. We may examine all of the lines going in and coming out. We begin to understand its properties and the complex relationships between each metal linkage. And we may begin to pull and finagle with greater insight and experience than before. Where once we were exhausted from pulling and plucking at the unmovable few strands within our scope, we will now begin to truly know and understand the knot. We will begin to extract a strand or two and test them to see if they’re pure, if they’re what they purport to be. Often enough we’ll find that the strands which come away first and easiest are the impure and knock-off bits of jewelry. What we learn from so-called American culture that sounds as though it could honestly be our own opinions and divine truth, but turns out to be false and ratty. Claire’s quality truth. Does one buy Tiffany’s out of a gumball machine for a quarter? Then why do we continue to purchase our eternal wisdom from temporal gumball machines? Why do we allow ourselves to buy into spiritual and mental junk? It is understandable for one plucking at resistant strands of an unveiled knot. It is regressive for one who fully comprehends the size and nature of their own personal knot.

If we worked our entire lives at paring down this knot, culling out the ratty nickel and aluminum fakes, until there was simply truth left, we would still have a knot. Once we had whittled away the overall size of it, we’d still have a ball of near pure gold alloys. A solid ball of 14 karat gold necklaces, studded with jewels, earrings, brooches, and rings; a mass of infinite value. Our bodies and our opinions about our bodies are simply that: beauty twisted into a problem. If our bodies are a divine gift to our inherently divine souls, then how can we be so twisted up in them? I posit that the knots that we have, while not eternal, are temporal. They will not go away in this lifetime. Even those un-beset by issues of body image, eating disorders, self-esteem, self-mutilation, self-alienation, self-hatred, or any of the other myriad sicknesses that crush us in our lives; even those who do not face these first-hand (although certainly everyone on this Earth experiences them if some on this Earth do) have to stare at the fact that they will die. That their body will cease to exist. And, in conjunction with that fact, their body will wither continually.

If we dug out every single extraneous strand of jewelry from our personal knots, we would get down to an impossible knot at the heart of it all. In order to live, we must die. That is an insoluble knot. The very chain we are working at loosing is fused together and will not untie itself from itself. Logic would dictate that this is an unusable piece of jewelry. We have worked for a very long time at liberating something useless. We have lived for the hope of having some rest from the continued tension contained within our bodies and minds. And here we find ourselves unable to solve the most basic fundamental part that started this mess.

But, again: “… as the body approaches dissolution the spirit takes a firmer hold on that enduring substance behind the veil, drawing from the depths of that eternal Fountain of Light sparkling gems of intelligence which surround the frail and sinking tabernacle with a halo of immortal wisdom” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 571). We cannot loose the bands of death, or life, alone. Our minds are not suited to it. Nor are our bodies. The Lord created us with internal paradoxes which power and motivate us toward the end, sort of like nuclear fission. The reward in the eternities is not an answer to our questions, but a sublime transcendence from the question itself. When we are reunited with our bodies, the knot at the center of us will cease to have relevance. Our theology is strikingly postmodern, don’t you think?

I apologize here for an imperfectly written essay. I apologize also for the extent to which I’ve dragged this metaphor. It was irresponsible. However, in order to fit the dictum of “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care”, I had to establish what I know. How much I care is based on a lifetime of my own personal issues with my body. It’s also based on watching the person I love most in this world struggle against an eating disorder that, reportedly, only 30 – 40% of people ever recover from. It’s from trying to learn how to create a stress-free meal environment. From asking daily or weekly how they’ve been doing. From waking up to this person crying in my arms as they struggle to get prepared to go to their first therapy session. It’s from years of slapping myself on the wrist for simply trying to tell them they’re wrong about how they feel. It’s from anxiety over whether or not an eating disorder is part of a person, whether or not I have to love an eating disorder as well as the person with it. It’s from feeling as though I’m always on the outside of something extremely personal and important to the person I love. It’s from how much I don’t know how to help and from how little I do know how to help. It’s from watching this person intentionally and maliciously hurt themself and the only really comprehendible piece of the experience is the pain they are so obviously going through. It’s from only comprehending the impact of pain on the body of the soul I wish to live eternally with.

I don’t know if my remarks will actually help anyone loose their own personal knots. It was helpful for me to dig through my own feelings on the subject, regardless. I hope that, at least, this post will help others find solace in their spirituality. The restored gospel of Jesus Christ brings us liberation not only after death, but also in life as we seek to loosen the ever-tightening mass of tension between our shoulders. God bless y’all. 

1 comment:

  1. Love this. Thank you for writing it.