A hymn to some body

In the beginning was Body. Once, in human eyes, sacredness or divinity permeated nature as an aura of appropriate reverence. Nature (Body) was then not “matter,” which is Body de-natured by the scientistic mind. But neither was it “spirit,” which is Body dematerialized by the superstitious mind. When deemed sacred, nature was properly respected, if not understood. But projecting human ego as a supernatural person enables one to think that the divine dwells somewhere in particular—in a house or even in a specific body. God holed up in a church or temple and no longer in the world at large. He bore a first-born son with heritable property rights. He could be approached like a powerful king in his palace, to supplicate and manipulate. Most importantly he/she/it no longer dwelt in nature and was certainly not nature itself. And since nature was no longer divine, people were henceforth free to do with it as they pleased.

Just so, when the human body is not revered, we do with it as we please instead of seeking how to please it. Throughout the ages, people have conceptualized the self, mind, ego, or soul as a non-material entity separate from the body. From a natural point of view, however, the self is a function of the physical body, which partakes in Body at large. The body is not the temple of the soul, but is part of Body unconfined to any shrine. The ego’s pursuits of pleasure and avoidances of discomfort ought to coincide with the body’s interests. Often they do not, for ego has rebelled against its “imprisonment” in body. That is a mistake, for consciousness (self) is naturally the body’s servant, not the other way around; and humanity is naturally nature’s servant, not its master. The self is not jockey to the horse but groom.

Up to a point, the body—and nature too—are forgiving of offenses made against them. Sin against Body is a question of cause and effect, not of someone’s judgment or the violation of a human law or norm. The wages of “sin” against the body are natural consequences, which can spell death. Yet, repentance may yield reprieve, provided it is a change of heart that leads to a genuine change of behavior soon enough. It makes some sense to pray to be forgiven such offenses. This is not petition to a free-standing God separate from nature, but to nature itself (which in the modern view is matter-energy, the physical and biological world, and the embodied presence of sentient creatures.) It makes sense even to pray to one’s own body for guidance in matters of health. For, at least the body and nature exist, unlike the fantasies of religion. It makes sense above all because prayer changes the supplicant. Whatever the effect or lack of effect on the object of prayer, the subject is transformed—for those who have ears to hear.

Body is “sacred,” meaning only that it should be revered. Yet, people do have uncanny experiences, which they personify as spirits or gods, sometimes perceived to reside in external things. That is ironic, since the conscious self—perceived to reside “in” the body—is itself a personification that the body has created as an aide to its self-governance. The further projection of this personification onto some abstraction is idolatry. As biological beings living in the real world, we ought to worship God-the-Body—not God the Father, Son or Holy Ghost, nor even God-the-Mother.

Then what of the human project to self-define, to make culture and civilization, to create a human (artificial) world, to transcend the body, to separate from nature? Understanding of nature is part of that project; yet it is also a form of worship, which does not have to be presumptuous or disrespectful. Science is the modern theology of God-the-Body, who did not create the world but is the world. Let us call that human project, in all its mental aspects including science and art, God-the-Mind. Part of the human project is to re-create nature or create artificial nature: God-the-Mind reconstituting God-the-Body, as the butterfly reconstitutes the caterpillar. That might entail creating artificial life, artificial mind, even artificial persons—recapitulating and extending the accomplishments of natural evolution. Fundamentally, the human project is selfcreation.

Regardless how foreign “mind” seems to matter, it is totally of nature if not always about it. Christian theology has its mystery of the dual reality of Jesus, as god and as man. The secular world has its duality of mind and matter. Is there a trinity beyond this duality? God-the-Common Spirit is all the Others unto whom we are to do as we hope they will do to us. It is the holy spirit of fellow-feeling, compassion, mutual respect and cooperation, in which we intend the best for others and their hopes. Certainly, this includes human beings, but other creatures as well. (Do we not all constitute and make the world together?) So, here is a new trinity: God the Body, Mind, and Common Spirit.

Roughly speaking, the Common Spirit is the cohesive force of global life. Common Spirit is the resolve to do one’s best as a part of the emerging whole: to deliberately participate in it as consciously and conscientiously as one can. To invoke the Common Spirit is to affirm that intention within oneself. (That is how I can understand prayer, and what it means to pray fervently “for the salvation of one’s soul.”) We live in the human collectivity, upon which we cannot turn our backs. We thrive only as it thrives. Your individuality is your unique contribution to it, and to pray is to seek how to best do your part for the good of all.

To honor the Common Spirit means to not let your fellows down. One’s calling is to merit their respect, whether or not one receives it. For the sake of the world, strive to do your best to help create and maintain the best in our common world! When you falter, forgive yourself and strive again, whether or not the others forgive you. Of course, it is also a sin to harm your fellows or put them at risk; or to fail to honour them personally; or to fail to honour their efforts, even when misguided. Know that worship is not only a feeling, a thought, or a ritual. Above all it is action: how you conduct yourself through life. It is how you live your resolve throughout the day, alert for situations in which to contribute some good and sensitive to how you might do that.

If this holy trinity makes sense to you, a daily practice can reaffirm commitment to it. This is a matter of remembering whatever motivated you in the first instance. Occasionally, shock is called for to wake someone up from their somnambulism—and that someone is always oneself. “Awakening” means not only seeking more adequate information, but also a more encompassing perspective. It means admitting that one’s perspective, however sophisticated, is limited and subjective. It means remaining humbly open—even vigilant—for new understanding, greater awareness. (Teachers can show up anywhere, most unexpectedly!) “Sleep” is forgetting that one does not live above or beyond Body, Mind, and Common Spirit, but only by their grace. Having the wrong or incomplete information is unavoidable. But the error of sleep is a false sense of identity.

As Dylan said, “You gotta serve somebody.” Better to serve the Body than the puny ego that claims ownership and control over the human organism. Or that claims control over the corpse of the denatured world or over the body politick. Ego may identify itself as mental or spiritual, in opposition to the physical body, which it considers “lower.” But the question at each moment is: What do I serve? God-the-Whatever is not at one’s beck and call to know, to consult, or even to submit to its will (for, it has none). We are rather on our own for guidance, each (if it comforts you to think so) a unique fragment of potential divinity. We can communicate with other fragments, ask their opinions, cooperate or not with their intentions, obey or defy their will or orders. But responsibility lies in each case with oneself. This is not willfulness or egocentricity. Nor is it individualism in the selfish sense, for it is not about entitlement.

One’s body is a distinct entity, yet it is part of the whole of nature, without which it could not live and would never have come into existence. Whatever else it might be, the self is a function of the body and its needs, a survival strategy in the external world of Body. We are embodied naturally as separate organisms. Yet, we are conjoined within nature, mind, and community. Spiritual traditions may bemoan “separation” as a condition to be overcome in an epiphany of oneness. Yet, we are simply separate in the ways that things are separate in space and that cells are within the organism. The part serves the whole, but cannot be it. For, the rebellion of the cell is cancer!