Body and Soul

Four summers ago I had a wonderful morning routine. I would rise at dawn and jump on my bike to ride 25 minutes to another neighborhood of the city where I would meet a friend at the local pool and swim laps for about a half hour. Then we’d go to her apartment, eat breakfast with the man who would become her husband, and ride our bikes a few more miles to the college, where she was working and I was taking classes that summer.

This is the kind of routine that only works during a certain season of the year, a certain season of life. I have been thinking about those months a lot lately, remembering them with fondness and trying to determine why I cherish them so much.

Was it because I was finding a familial routine in a city away from my own family? Was it because I was starting to discover the amazing richness of adult friendships? Was it because it meant exploring the city in the morning light, or because I had the feeling that I was indulging by sneaking in such adventures before the day even began?

It was probably all of these things, but as I lay sweating on my yoga mat recently and nearly wept at the knowledge of how the years are piling up between my now and that then, a new possibility struck me. Could those mornings be even more precious because of how we exerted ourselves?

Today the Catholic church celebrates the Solemnity of the Assumption, on which we recall that the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven.

Now God has willed that the Blessed Virgin Mary should be exempted from this general rule [of bodily corruption after death]. She, by an entirely unique privilege, completely overcame sin by her Immaculate Conception, and as a result she was not subject to the law of remaining in the corruption of the grave, and she did not have to wait until the end of time for the redemption of her body. – Munificentissimus Deus 5

Piazzetta AssumptionThis is a rich dogma, and the kernel I take from it today is this: our bodies matter. How the give us pleasure, how we nourish them and they sustain us all matter. Mary’s special privilege is that she doesn’t have to wait until the end of time to get hers back.

What other evidence do I have for this? That contact with another person’s body in an embrace can be absolute bliss. That food gives me delight as well as nourishment. That athletic exertion is renewing, even for someone like me who struggled with athleticism her whole life. And that smiling across a kitchen table at a workout partner while refueling with an English muffin remains in my heart as a tangible sign of God’s presence.

If we truly believe in the sanctity of the body, it will have enormous consequences. We are called to respectful, prayerful and appropriate expressions of sexuality. Self-care is demanded of us, as are the physical boundaries that maintain the bodily integrity of other people.

Even though at times my body gives me grief, I do my best to reverence it and recognize it as a gift from God. Today’s feast reminds me that this is worthy spiritual work, and that God has plans for all us, body and soul.

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1 Response to Body and Soul

  1. Val says:

    The Assumption is one of those times when the cranky Calvinist looks at culturally Roman Catholic member of the ecumenical quartet in my head (there is also a Baptist and an atheist) and says: “Nope.”

    (I’m planning on 12:10 PM mass at the cathedral anyway)

    On some level, it’s hard to ignore these things in a city replete with Guadalupe shrines, a city that takes her name from a line in the Litany of Loreto.

    I’m headed down to Olvera Street later (Los Angeles’s sanitized pseudo-Mexican version of its historical self — it seriously feels like it fell out of Epcot Center at Disney World). Mary merch (as opposed to Jesus junk) will be one of the most common things I’ll see. Like it or not, whether a person notices or not, there is a layer of this city where Mary is still queen, though the Franciscan friars have long since gone away.

    I get the whole body thing. It cracks me up how many different ways over the centuries that Greek philosophy has crept into Western thought along the lines of a separation between soul and dust, as if soul is what is good and all that matters.

    It’s not. My battle is against letting asceticism take over (because if you’re hard-wired as an ascetic, it will…).

    Maybe what it is — maybe its that in those moments like the ones you spoke about — is that in those moments we are most fully human because we are more fully aware that not only are we both physical and spiritual beings, but those two elements are working together (and we’re not somehow overthinking why such a thing shouldn’t be possible).

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